In early August, the international news agency, Reuters, reported that families in Kenyawere selling their daughters into marriage, sometimes for as little as $168.00 dollars, in an attempt to ease the economic burden caused by drought. The story about the “child drought brides” gathered international attention. Sadly, the situation inKenya is not unique. Climate change, and its detrimental effects on the environment, disproportionately affects adolescent girls and is increasing girls’ risk for school dropout, early marriage, sexual violence, and other negative outcomes.

 

“Climate change and local environmental change may destroy all of my dreams and aspirations,” 15 year-old girl from the Philippines

Drought and natural disasters often increase the economic burden felt by vulnerable households.  In the aftermath of natural disasters, families may experience job loss, home damage, and loss of crops and livestock. Girls are often the first pulled out of school to help supplement the household income.

Girls may also be forced to leave school in order to shoulder some of the burden of increased household responsibilities. Girls may be expected to care for sick or injured relatives or to provide childcare for younger siblings when parents are traveling to collect aid or food.  Furthermore, drought, deforestation, and natural disasters often cause adolescent girls to spend more than half of their days looking for wood and clean water; this results in less regular school attendance.  When a girl is forced to leave school, not only is her education jeopardized, but she faces increased risk of early and unintended pregnancies, and HIV and other STIs.

The economic burden of climate change also increases a girl’s risk of early marriage. Many families arrange marriages for the “bride price” and to ease the burden of having to feed and care for girls. Early marriage often results in girls leaving school and increases the risk of early pregnancy.

In disaster situations, women and girls are more likely to experience all types of violence including sexual violence. Girls are at risk of sexual violence while staying in relief shelters, on the way to the shelters, and when collecting water or firewood while staying in a shelter.  Sexual violence leads to poor health consequences for its victims including unintended pregnancies, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and death. Also, because families perceive shelters as unsafe, girls may be left at home, making them unable to benefit from the reproductive health services offered there.

Programs and policies need to place a greater focus on the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change on the reproductive health of adolescent girls. In a recent report called “Weathering the Storm: Adolescent Girls and Climate Change,” Plan International makes the following programmatic and policy suggestions.

Programs should ensure that girls have: 

  1. Greater access to quality education
  2. Greater protection from gender-based violence  
  3. Greater participation in activities related adapting to climate change and reducing risk

Policies should:

  1. Prescribe gender-sensitive strategies for adapting to climate change
  2. Address gender inequality as a root cause of vulnerability to climate change