Climate Change

Globally, 9 million girls face extreme risks of climate disaster and child marriage every year: Report

The combination of threats has created emergency hotspots for girls’ rights in Bangladesh and across sub-Saharan Africa

By Madhumita Paul
Published: Wednesday 11 October 2023
Currently, an estimated 29.9 million girls reside in the top 10 countries identified as child-marriage and climate hotspots. Photo: iStock_

Almost nine million girls around the world are facing an increased risk of child marriage along with climate disasters, according to a new report released by Save the Children, a charity organisation for children.

Approximately two-thirds of child marriages are concentrated in regions bearing higher-than-average climate risks, revealed Global Girlhood Report 2023: Girls at the Centre of the Storm — Her planet, her future, her solutions. The number of girls at high risk of extreme weather events and child marriage is expected to rise, according to the report.

Currently, an estimated 29.9 million girls reside in the top 10 countries identified as child-marriage and climate hotspots. The 10 hotspot countries are the Central African Republic, Chad, Guinea, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Niger and South Sudan.

The number of girls growing up in the top 10 hotspots is expected to increase by 2.3 million from 29.9 million to 32.2 million by 2030, the report estimated. By 2050, the number of girls in these hotspots will be 39.9 million, an increase of one-third.

In South Asia, particularly Bangladesh and in sub-Saharan Africa, Central African Republic, Chad and Guinea, were identified as most severely impacted regions. These regions are also severely impacted by poverty, gender inequality, conflict and hunger.

Climate crisis and child marriage

Analysis of historical data shows that a 10 per cent increase or decrease in rainfall is associated with a per cent increase in child marriage globally.

In parts of Ethiopia worst hit by drought and food shortages, rates of child marriage rose by 119 per cent in 2022 compared to 2021. 

A 2020 study found that in Bangladesh, girls aged 11–14 were shown to be twice as likely to marry in years following extreme heat.

Heavy rainfall in Niger in 2022 resulted in severe flooding that left over 2.6 million students out of school. This disproportionately affected girls, increasing the risk of child marriage.

After Cyclone Freddy, child marriages surged in Malawi. In the first half of 2023, 438 boys and 528 girls were married off, compared to just 17 boys and 28 girls during the same period in the previous year. 

As weather events grow in severity and frequency, the hotspot countries suffer from more poverty, worsened gender inequality and other threats. 

The Central Sahel region (including Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger) faces conflict, poverty and the world’s highest rates of child marriage.

According to Save the Children, girls are less likely to complete their education. They face a higher risk of physical and sexual violence and greater health risks during pregnancy and childbirth.

The report emphasised the urgent need for action to address the climate crisis as a girls’ rights emergency. Less than two per cent of national climate plans worldwide specifically mention girls and consider their needs. 

It focused on three ways to respond to the specific impacts of the climate crisis on girls and work towards gender equality as a form of climate action. The three ways are:

  • Making gender equality and protection from gender-based violence central priorities in climate action
  • Investment in anticipatory action to shock-proof the systems and services girls need
  • Supporting girls as decision-makers and autonomous feminist movements

The document called for investment to adapt to climate change, particularly focusing on children, especially girls, who are highly vulnerable to its impacts. 

The report was published on the eve of the International Day of the Girl Child, which falls on October 11, 2023. The theme of International Day of the Girl 2023 is Invest in Girls’ Rights: Our Leadership, Our Well-being.

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