Child Labour Report 2017: The Neglected Link, Effects of Climate Change and Environmental Degradation on Child Labour
1. At a Glance
“We are the first generation to be able to end poverty, and the last generation that can take steps to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.” Ban Ki-moon Former Secretary-General of the United Nations
Over half a billion children are living in areas with extremely high levels of floods and nearly 160 million children live in areas of high or extremely high droughts.1 The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 26% of the annual 6.6 million deaths of children under-five are linked to environment-related causes and conditions.2 Children are also disproportionately affected by pollution, not only in terms of death rates, but also in terms of cognitive and physical development.3 This report illustrates that environmental causes also have an impact on whether children are pushed to work and on the kind of work they engage in, the conditions of work, exposure to dangerous toxicants and the risk of exploitation. However, the report raises more questions than it answers as it is one of the first reports addressing the question, how environmental degradation and climate change affect the vulnerability of children towards exploitation. Data on child labour is available, though by far not sufficient to understand all relevant root causes and dynamics. Only some data on effects of climate change and environmental degradation is available, mainly on health issues. Further research and awareness of the relationship between environmental changes and child labour are thus necessary to avoid that the respective policies and programmes fall short of achieving their objectives.
— The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) remains largely absent from climate- and environmental related policies, action, investments and dialogue. This is even more noticeable when it comes to specific issues, such as child labour.
Children should be placed at the centre of inter national and national climate strategies and the best interests of the child should be the primary consideration when designing, implementing and monitoring environmental and labour policies and developing mitigation and adaption strategies.
• The five case studies in Nepal, India, Burkina Faso, Peru and Nicaragua show that environmental changes acted as root causes or exacerbated existing root causes pushing children to work, worsen their conditions of work, migrate or even engage in more hazardous forms of work. However, not all environmental changes had the same impact on child labour:
— The case of Burkina Faso shows that climate change in the Sahel region leads to unpredictable weather patterns and soil depletion, which forces families to seek alternative sources of income. A combination of poor livelihood conditions, low quality education and lack of decent work opportunities for young people and adults as well as the recent gold rush have caused children to work under dangerous and harmful conditions in the gold mines.
— The example of India shows that especially migrant children are increasingly trapped in hazardous forms of labour because their families flee from environmental stress in their home districts in the state of Odhisa. Due to climate change, the duration of this seasonal migration has extended from three to six months, which denies the children access to quality education. Moreover, the example shows that this group of migrants is hardly reached by development and government programmes. They are left behind although the area generally shows a positive development with a decrease of child labour.
— The case study on Nepal illustrates how slow onset events such as changing rainfall patterns threaten those who depend on the agricultural sector forcing children to look for sources of income to assist their families. Extreme shocks such as the 2015 earthquake deteriorate existing patterns of exploitation dramatically. Seasonal migration is an adaptation strategy for many families as it reduces reliance on agriculture livelihoods.