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. 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. 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. 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. It is estimated that 132 million girls are out of school, 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, such as sexual violence and early and forced marriage. 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. 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.
Girls on the move can experience psychological trauma and stress, which may impact their capacity to engage in learning. Education systems must be prepared to provide adequate mental and physical health assistance to address these challenges.
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.
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.
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