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Children, Climate Change and Environmental Migration

Climate change has a much stronger impact on children than adults. Their psychological and physical development is notably affected by environmental factors. Phenomena like droughts and flood will cause significant, longer-lasting emotional stress in children as they grow up. Droughts are accompanied by long periods of acute food shortages and hunger; floods are often accompanied by epidemics. Malnutrition and disease inhibit children’s future development of both physical and cognitive skills. Perceiving these situations as effects of economic recession, their families often choose migration as a way out. (Bartlett, 2008; UNICEF, 2011; UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, 2008; UNICEF, 2007)

Adaption strategies

Natural phemonena such as landslides, droughts, floods and rising sea levels are motivating more and more families to move to urban areas in hopes of establishing new sources of income. However, since most of these families lack financial resources, they have to settle in slums with little sanitation and little room for children to exercise freedom. Children, in fact, will frequently have to work to supplement the family income. The right to education is partly or completely bypassed. (see, for instance, Indonesia in UNICEF, 2011)

Some families will send their children to work in distant cities on their own: many young prostitutes in Bombay are originally from poor villages in Nepal where bad harvests forced families to essentially sacrifice one child as “additional breadwinner” for the sake of the others’. (Bartlett, 2008)

Policy change necessary

It is children in Asia, South America and Africa in particular that experience the effects of climate change most directly. New studies increasingly stress that children have to be involved in planning how to combat climate change. For only this will give children the chance to become better informed as to how best to prepare for, and react to, future changes. Existing online initiatives are, for instance, “A student’s guide to global climate change”, “Kids vs. Global Warming”, “Kids Corner”, “Climate Choices + Children’s Voices” and “Kids Newsroom”.

Adaptation strategies, such as exploiting children as an additional source of income, must – in any case – be circumvented. The government could offer incentives to families to send their children to school, and it could improve the employment conditions and options for parents. Furthermore, living conditions have to be improved. And in all solution-planning and -strategising children should be involved from the beginning, for only this will ensure that problems can be targeted according to their understanding of them.




3 thoughts on “Children, Climate Change and Environmental Migration

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