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Climate crisis is putting children in harm’s way, says WCC study

04 September 2023

Marcelo Schneider/WCC 

Children take part in the Fridays for Future march during COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021

Children take part in the Fridays for Future march during COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021

CRISES induced by climate change are increasing the risk of all forms of violence against children, a new study co-produced by the World Council of Churches (WCC) suggests.

The social-ecological study, The Climate Crisis and Violence Against Children, was published in both The Lancet and Child Abuse and Neglect journals last week. It reviews selected existing research to “examine how the climate crisis exacerbates the risk of violence against children at the continually intersecting and interacting levels of society, community, family, and the individual levels”.

It concludes that there is a direct link between two. Climate change increases the risk of armed conflict, forced displacement, poverty, income inequality, disruptions in critical health and social services, and mental-health problems, it says, which all heighten the risk of violence against children.

This “violence can be physical, psychological, and sexual, as well as abandonment, neglect, forced marriage, witnessing violence, and child labour,” it explains.

The study continues: “Furthermore, we posit that the climate crisis serves as a threat-multiplier, compounding existing vulnerabilities and inequities within populations and having harsher consequences in settings, communities, households, and for children already experiencing adversities.”

Children are adversely affected by pre-existing inequalities and “overlapping” environmental and humanitarian crises in low-income countries, the study says — all exacerbated by the Covid pandemic. Almost half the global population of children live in countries that are at high risk of exposure to environmental shocks.

The study calls for more decisive action by governments, corporations, and global organisations to reverse the adverse effects of climate change. It also calls “for urgent efforts from researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to further investigate the specific empirical links between the climate crisis and violence against children, and to design, test, implement, fund, and scale evidence-based, rights-based, and child-friendly prevention, support, and response strategies to address violence against children”.

The senior adviser on child rights for the WCC, Frederique Seidel, said: “This study underscores the urgent need to recognise that inadequate responses to the climate emergency pose a profound ethical concern affecting every aspect of the rights, physical and emotional wellbeing of children.

“As people of faith, we are called to tackle the root causes of the climate emergency, as an urgent measure for protecting children from the dire consequences of a warming world.”

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