ANALYSIS Gift Mauluka 28 January 2022
Climate change has many impacts on children’s rights. In many cases of extreme vulnerability, such as situations of child labour, those impacts are even more profound. This blog piece attempts to unpack the connections between child labour and climate change. Having established these connections, I then look at the possibilities offered by the normative and institutional structures found in international child rights law, particularly the standards relating to combating child labour. Additionally, a synthesis is sought from the various options in climate change regulation. In making this analysis, I argue that it is important to utilise all available tools implicated in this debate, that is both human rights and climate change regulation with a view to eliminating the vulnerability of children who find themselves in this situation of child labour through no fault of their own.
Effects of climate change on children
Climate change is arguably one of the current problems that the globe is striving to address in the present time. Climate change has been associated with, among others, extreme weather conditions which lead to floods that destroy homes and sources of livelihood. It is also associated with destruction of essential infrastructure such roads, schools, hospitals and portable water sources. Even though these effects impact everyone, the experience is dire for children.
Additionally, climate change is attributed to the increase in vector borne and infectious diseases in three main ways. First, the resultant scarcity in water sources push households in affected areas to use water from unsafe sources. Second, in rare cases where the water sources are safe, handling of the water becomes a challenge due to loss of household utensils. This results into contamination of the water which leads to increased cases of infectious diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera. Thirdly, water scarcity push children to search for the water in harsh conditions that affect their health and physical development.
Climate change has further been linked with decline in quality of care from parents to children. This is because the climate change cause parents to be preoccupied with dealing with prevailing conditions of scarcity of water, lack of sanitation, loss of income and limited safety spaces. The preoccupation makes parents have less time to optimally provide and care for their children. The resultant lack this quality care and guidance expose affected children to all sorts of abuse and exploitation including the worst forms of child labour.
Furthermore, parent’s loss of income can particularly place the children in compromised situations. For instance, children in households that experience loss or shortage of income may be forced to source alternative or supplementary income for the families. Often times, the sourcing is done under harsh and unfavourable conditions.
Lastly, climate change impacts can render an arable land useless. The resultant effect would be to force families to migrate to other communities in search of better living conditions. The families migrate because their arable land has been rendered useless, their sources of income have been destroyed or they cannot find alternative sources of livelihood. This too has a ripple effect on the children who may be pushed into child labour in an effort to transition properly or support their suffering families.
Relations of effects of climate change to rights of children
Even though climate change affects everyone, children are disproportionately affected. This is attributable to two main reasons. First, children are not physically developed to cope with changes in environment. Secondly, they have a dependent nature on adults. The situation is even worse for children living on the edge of poverty, girls and children with disabilities.
Such disproportionate effects do not only distress the daily life of the children but it also affects enjoyment and protection of their rights. For instance, when schools have been disrupted by floods, the right to education for the children is affected. Furthermore, lack of access to portable clean water, exposure to infectious diseases and decline in quality of care affects the right to life of the children. Additionally, their right to recreation and culture is also affected as the children do not have safe spaces to play; learn from each other; and discover things that are related to their place of origin. This is because their playing and recreation spaces may have been destroyed or even turned into camps for displaced people. Having no place to play and recreate, children may end up in the streets where exposures to worst forms of child labour, including trafficking and prostitution is higher than within their homes.
Remedies for redress
United Nations Convention on the rights of the Child (CRC) provides for the protection of children. The Convention calls upon member states to put in place measures that ensure the safety and protection of children. Furthermore, ILO Conventions 138 and 182 set a minimum age for children to work and protects children from the worst forms of child labour respectively. On the other hand, the international instruments on climate change, such as the UNFCCC and its other related conventions have put in place some mechanisms meant to address the effect of climate change on poor economies. One of the establishments is the Green Climate Fund. Through this fund, developing countries are cushioned against the adverse effects of climate change. Apart from the remedies from the Frameworks’ perspective, there are other social remedies that countries have put in place to combat both climate change effects as well as child labour. These include social safety nets to help address income challenges for households; and public awareness campaigns for the promotion of children’s rights. Nevertheless, each one of these remedies leaves room for improvement for optimal realisation of the enjoyment and fulfilment of the rights of children.
While climate change related conventions such as the UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement establish the intergenerational principles, where the ecosystems have to be protected while thinking of the future generation, the CRC create mechanism of protection of children’s rights for them to enjoy their life to the fullest. It is clear that each of these legal frameworks can contribute in addressing different problems in its own right. Nevertheless, sustainable changes can meaningfully be achieved when solutions to these problems tap from other disciplines. This will enable children to grow in an environment that supports their development from different angles.
Gift Mauluka is a PhD candidate at the Chair for African Legal Studies at the University of Bayreuth.