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Climate crisis increases risk of child marriage for millions of girls

Save the Children's Global Girlhood report reveals the long-term repercussions of climate change on child marriage.

By Ground Report
New Update
Climate crisis increases risk of child marriage for millions of girls

The Global Girlhood Report 2023 by Save the Children reveals the alarming impact of the climate crisis on child marriage, with nearly nine million girls worldwide at increased risk of forced marriages due to extreme weather events. The report highlights gender inequality exacerbated by climate change and calls for immediate action to protect girls’ rights.

Multiple risk factors drive child marriage, a practice rooted in gender inequality. These include girls living out of school, enduring poverty, experiencing food shortages, becoming pregnant or having a child, and facing various forms of gender-based violence.

The climate crisis and its long-term repercussions exacerbate these risk factors. For instance, climate-related disasters can lead to school closures, loss of family income, and heightened gender-based violence. Families, seeking protection from violence or economic security, may decide to marry their daughters off, further perpetuating this harmful practice.

Climate change and its impact on child marriage rates

One shocking revelation is the association between rainfall fluctuations and child marriage rates. The analysis of historical data in the report indicates that a 10% change in rainfall links to a 1% increase in child marriages globally.

The consequences of climate-induced disasters on child marriages are evident in the case of Ethiopia, where regions severely affected by drought and food shortages saw a staggering 119% increase in child marriages in 2022 compared to the previous year. "A 2020 study from Bangladesh, cited in the report, found that extreme heatwaves in the following years made girls aged 11-14 twice as likely to be married off."

In Niger, heavy rainfall in 2022 led to widespread flooding, affecting over 2.6 million students, with girls facing a higher risk of child marriage as they were unable to continue their education.

Even after the immediate crisis subsides, we can see the dire effects of climate disasters. For example, in Malawi, Cyclone Freddy triggered a surge in child marriages where they married off hundreds of children in the first half of 2023. This surge was a stark contrast to the previous year when the numbers were significantly lower.

The report underscores the dire need to recognize and address the climate crisis as an urgent threat to girls' rights. It brings attention to the scant, less than 2%, consideration given to girls in national climate plans globally, sounding an urgent cry for immediate measures to safeguard the most vulnerable.

Prioritizing gender equality and protection against gender-based violence in climate action. Investing in anticipatory action to prepare for the needs of girls in the face of climate crises. Supporting girls as decision-makers and leaders of autonomous feminist movements. The report calls for substantial investments in climate adaptation, particularly with a focus on the most vulnerable children, especially girls.

Alarming case studies

The report highlights several case studies that underscore the severe implications of climate-induced child marriage:

  • In parts of Ethiopia hit hard by drought and food shortages, child marriage rates surged by a shocking 119% in 2022 compared to the previous year.
  • A 2020 study revealed that extreme heatwaves in the following years made girls aged 11-14 in Bangladesh twice as likely to get married.
  • In Zimbabwe, reports have emerged of girls initiating their own marriages in a desperate attempt to secure access to food.
  • The devastating floods in Pakistan in 2022 left approximately 640,000 adolescent girls vulnerable, at increased risk of coercion, gender-based violence, and child marriage.

A disturbing trend was revealed through historical data analysis: a 10% change in rainfall associated with a 1% increase in child marriage rates globally. Save the Children identifies 10 global hotspots where climate change and child marriage disproportionately affect girls.

In these regions, two-thirds of child marriages occur in areas with higher-than-average climate risks. Experts expect the young and rapidly growing populations in these hotspots to face a dire future, with an estimated 2.3 million more girls growing up in these high-risk environments by 2030. Experts project this number to reach 39.9 million by 2050.

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