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Putting Child Rights at the Heart of Climate Talks

Climate Change’s Disproportionate Impact on Children’s Health, Education

Sifola, age 13, stands in the home she shares with her husband and in-laws. Her parents took her out of school and arranged her marriage because they were struggling with poverty and wanted to conserve their resources in order to pay for her brothers’ schooling. Her family bribed local officials to forge a birth certificate that showed her age as over 18 in order to marry her off. March 31, 2015. © 2015 Omi for Human Rights Watch

“Whatever land my father had and the house he had went under the water in the river erosion and that’s why my parents decided to get me married,” said Sultana C., who was married at age 14. Bangladesh is among the countries most affected by climate change, and many families there, like Sultana’s, are pushed by natural disasters into deepening poverty – increasing the risk of child marriage.

Over the next 10 days, policymakers from 195 countries are meeting in Bonn, Germany, to discuss how governments should implement the 2015 Paris climate agreement. On Monday, Morocco, which holds the presidency of the climate talks, hosted an event on children’s rights and climate change. They were joined by the ambassador from Fiji, which will hold the negotiation’s presidency later this year, and several United Nations child rights experts. This was the first time that the Climate Convention Presidency has officially hosted an event on human rights.

A focused discussion on children’s rights and climate change is urgently needed. Climate change’s impact on health, access to water, and education, among other areas, disproportionately affects children, whose bodies and minds are still developing. In the Turkana region of Kenya, Human Rights Watch found that climate change, along with other challenges, means children have become sick because their families are unable to provide them with sufficient food and clean water.

There is a growing push to address how environmental degradation harms children. UNICEF, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have all highlighted the negative impact of climate change on children, and the need for government action. Children who suffer environmental harm should also be able to hold governments and companies that are responsible to account.

Policymakers in Bonn need to take heed, follow the advice given at Monday’s presidency briefing, and place children’s rights at the heart of these climate talks. The children of today and of the future deserve a planet where their rights are fully respected.

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