The impacts of climate change — including displacement and migration of people — pose multiple challenges to the rights of children.[1] Worldwide, there are 20 million internally displaced persons under age 15 — either because of conflicts and disasters, or both.[2] The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement define internally displaced people or groups as those who have been forced to flee or leave their homes because of armed conflict, violence, human rights violations or disasters, and have not crossed an internationally recognized border.

As explained in UNICEF’s recent report Futures at Risk: Protecting the Rights of Children on the Move in a Changing Climate climate change-related displacement and migration refers to human mobility driven by the effects of climate change, which ultimately impact people’s livelihoods, wellbeing, and survival.[3] This can take place internally in a country and across borders. Such movements can occur due to sudden-onset disasters like cyclones, associated with a changing climate and increased severe weather patterns. Slow-onset degradation, including droughts and sea-level rise, can also drive displacement and migration. Some states will most probably sink in the decades to come, which would cause a complete displacement of inhabitants.

Climate change effects are not gender neutral and can impact girls differently.[4] Approximately four million girls in low- and lower-middle-income countries may not be able to complete their education given events linked to climate change.[5] When families and individuals are forced to leave their homes due to climate change-related events, or when they decide to flee before it becomes too late, girls’ access to education is put at risk.

People who are displaced due to the impacts of climate change may not be able to access education facilities like schools especially during a migration journey. In addition, when they reach a temporary facility or a “safer” place to stay, children may have already fallen behind in their education. In addition, the journey may have exposed people to traumatic experiences, affecting their possibility of actively engaging in schooling. International, national, and local policymakers must be aware of the implications of these movements on the right to education, included in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and Articles 28 and 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

There is limited data on climate change-related displacement and migration, gender, children, and education.[6] It is estimated that 132 million girls are out of school,[7] but it is unclear how many of these girls have experienced some form of climate change-related displacement and migration. Although the exact number of girls that have been — or will be — affected by climate change-related displacement and migration is unclear, we do know that the realization of the right to education faces significant barriers in this context.

Girls on the move facing climate change-related displacement and migration may encounter higher risks of violence based on their gender,[8] such as sexual violence and early and forced marriage.[9] Early and forced marriage is also associated with adolescent and early pregnancy. As climate change affects livelihoods, girls can be forcibly married to reduce families’ financial burden. Moreover, data demonstrates that cases of adolescent and early pregnancy rise in the aftermath of disasters.[10] Such risks of early and forced marriage, as well as pregnancy, may result in girls not attending school or being unable to complete related tasks such as homework.

Girls may also be pulled out of school first for domestic work to support their households and adapt to the effects of climate change. For example, during droughts, girls may spend more time collecting water, limiting the amount of time to attend school.[11]

Girls on the move can experience psychological trauma and stress, which may impact their capacity to engage in learning.[12] Education systems must be prepared to provide adequate mental and physical health assistance to address these challenges.[13]

Girls affected by climate change-related displacement and migration can be victims of domestic violence,[14] sexual abuse,[15] and trafficking.[16]

The UK will host COP26 in Glasgow between 1-12 November of this year. In presiding over COP26, the UK should advance an agenda for the protection of girls’ rights in relation to climate justice. The right to access to education of girls on the move affected by climate change-related displacement and migration must be included in climate justice policy decisions.

Without a gendered and child rights approach to the effects of climate change, the world may continue to fail in protecting those who are most vulnerable.

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Written by Sara M. Pan Algarra, Hillary Clinton Global Challenges Scholar, pursuing the MA in Global Challenges: Law, Policy and Practice at Swansea University’s School of Law. Her research focuses on the impacts of climate change-related displacement and migration on girls’ access to education.

Endnotes

[1] ‘The Challenges of Climate Change Children on the Front Line’ (UNICEF Office of Research Innocenti Insight, 2014) 33.

[2] ‘GRID 2021 Internal Displacement in a Changing Climate’ (IDMC, May 2021) 8.

[3] A Nielsen and R Allen, ‘Futures at Risk: Protecting the Rights of Children on the Move in a Changing Climate, UK Committee for UNICEF’ (UNICEF, 2021) 17.

[4] ‘Priorities for Public Climate Finance in the Year Ahead. COP26 Presidency’ (COP26 Presidency, January 2021) 14; H Atkinson and J Bruce, ‘Adolescent Girls, Human Rights and the Expanding Climate Emergency’ (2015) 81 Annals of Global Health 323, 325.

[5] Lucia Fry and Philippa Lei, ‘A Greener, Fairer Future: Why Leaders Need to Invest in Climate and Girls’ Education’ (Malala Fund, March 2021) 11.

[6] ‘The Impact of Climate Displacement on the Right to Education’ (UNESCO, 30 November 2020) 4.

[7] ‘Girls’ Education Gender Equality in Education Benefits Every Child’ (UNICEF, 2021) <www.unicef.org/education/girls-education> accessed 14 May 2021.

[8] Itzá Castañeda Camey and others, ‘Gender-based Violence and Environment Linkages The Violence of Inequality’ (International Union for Conservation of Nature and USAID, 2020) 144. Gender-Based Violence (GBV) has been defined as ‘any act that is perpetrated against a person’s will and is based on gender norms and unequal power relationships. It includes threats of violence and coercion and can be physical, emotional, psychological or sexual, and can take the form of a denial of resources like food or money or of access to services like healthcare or education.’ Available at Gabrielle Szabo and Jess Edwards, ‘The Global Girlhood Report 2020 How COVID-19 is Putting Progress in Peril’ (Save the Children, 2020) 23.

[9] H Atkinson and J Bruce, ‘Adolescent Girls, Human Rights and the Expanding Climate Emergency’ (2015) 81 Annals of Global Health 323, 325; Amy Fischer, ‘Hope Dries Up? Women and Girls Coping with Drought and Climate Change in Mozambique’ (CARE International in Mozambique, November 2016) 6; Fry and Lei (n 5) 10; Gabrielle Szabo and Jess Edwards, ‘The Global Girlhood Report 2020 How COVID-19 is Putting Progress in Peril’ (Save the Children, 2020) 17.

[10] Sharon Goulds, ‘In Double Jeopardy: Adolescent Girls and Disasters’ (Commonwealth Education Partnerships, 2009) 142; Joni Pegram and Robert Oakes, ‘No Place to Call Home: Protecting Children’s Rights when the

Changing Climate Forces Them to Flee’ (UNICEF UK, 2017) 18.

[11] E Gibbons, ‘Climate Change, Children’s Rights, and the Pursuit of Intergenerational Climate Justice’ (2014) 16 Health and Human Rights Journal 19, 22; AA Babugura, ‘Vulnerability of Children and Youth in Drought Disasters: A Case Study of Botswana” in Children, Youth and Environments’ (2008) 18 Children, Youth and Environments 126; Ellen Chigwanda, ‘A Framework for Building Resilience to Climate Change through Girls’ Education Programming’ (Center for Universal Education at Brookings, December 2016).

[12] Joni Pegram and Robert Oakes, ‘No Place to Call Home: Protecting Children’s Rights when the

Changing Climate Forces Them to Flee’ (UNICEF UK, 2017) 4.

[13] JS Picou and BK Marshall, ‘Social Impacts of Hurricane Katrina on Displaced K–12 Students and Educational Institutions in Coastal Alabama Counties: Some Preliminary Observations’ (2007) 27 Sociological Spectrum 767, 778; Elizabeth Sloand and others, ‘Experiences of Violence and Abuse among Internally Displaced Adolescent Girls Following a Natural Disaster’ (2017) 73 Journal of Advanced Nursing 3200, 3200.

[14] ‘Gender, Climate Change and Health’ (WHO, 2014) 16.

[15] Peek L, ‘Children and Disasters: Understanding Vulnerability, Developing Capacities, and Promoting Resilience — An Introduction’ (2008) 18 Children, Youth and Environments 1; N Chindarkar, ‘Gender and Climate Change-induced Migration: Proposing a Framework for Analysis’ (2012) 7 Environmental Research Letters 1; ‘Gender, Climate Change and Health’ (WHO, 2014) 17.

[16] ‘Climate Change and Children A Human Security Challenge’ (UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, November 2008) 13.