The Neglected Link

Effects of Climate Change and Environmental Degradation on Child Labour


Date of publication:  12 Jun 2017 Author:  Lisa Myers Laura Theytaz-Bergman Publisher:  Terre Des Hommes International Federation Publication type:  Report / Study / Data

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 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. The brick kilns draw families for seasonal work and child labour is often needed to pay off loans. 

—— In contrast to the other case studies in this report, the case of Nicaragua shows how environmental degradation leads to new forms of work for adults and children alike. As agricultural productivity falls due to climate change and the frequency of extreme weather events, families start migrating, either seasonally or permanently, to urban areas in search of food safety and employment. The huge dumpsites form one lucrative income opportunity, as this type of work is easy to access. At the same time, waste pickers form part of the solution and see their work as a contribution to a more clean and healthy environment.
—— Peru is an example that illustrates the effects of climate change on the agricultural sector. Local subsistence farmers are not equipped to react to the climate change induced income losses and turn to coping mechanisms such as migration to urban areas and sending their children to work, e.g. in brick kilns, to ensure the family’s survival.

Rural areas where families’ livelihoods depend on the land are heavily impacted by environmental degradation and climate change. Due to droughts, extreme temperatures and other environmental changes, poverty increases and puts even more pressure on families to send their children to work, as adult breadwinners are unable to earn enough to cover their basic needs. 
• When attempts to cope with environmental degradation, including harm from climate change and ecosystem changes, are insufficient or inappropriate, families often resort to migration in search of alternative
sources of income. Although children may migrate alone, environmental migration often takes place with the immediate or extended family. Rural to urban migration is the most common form, and depending on the type of environmental factor, which pushes children to migrate, they may be seasonal or permanent migrants. Rural to urban migration puts more pressure on cities and urban areas, fuelling the vicious cycle again.
• Migration, be it permanent or seasonal, has been identified as a key factor in stopping children from attending school. In certain cases, the lack of, or inadequate, school facilities for migrant children, meant that children discontinued school. While in other cases, parents did not see the value of schooling, when they could not cover their basic needs. 

Another issue facing migrants, especially seasonal ones, was the fact that they were not registered with local authorities and were therefore not entitled to access public services such as health and education.
In certain case studies, children combined work and education. However, for most of the children, limited educational opportunities or the inability to combine education and work led to school dropout.

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