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  • Gabriela Kadifchina

Climate change and child brides

The effects of global warming are now being discussed more than ever. The 2018 UN Climate Change Conference and emergence of prominent activists such as Greta Thunberg have propelled the issue to the forefront of public discussion. Many of us seem to associate the topic with cases of natural disasters, rising sea levels, starvation and droughts. However, the extent to which climate change plays a vital role in the lives of young girls across countries of poor economic background is wildly underestimated. Needless to say, research on the issue is scarce yet the recently conducted project ‘Brides of the Sun’ has acted to shed more light on the atrocities that stem from climate change.

Many African nations have been known as common providers of raw goods obtained through farming and farmers within these nations have long struggled to maintain a steady income. Unforeseen disasters such as floods and drought caused by rapid climate change have aggravated the socio-economic situation. Rising temperatures, for example, have been viewed as a source of unpredictable rainfall, leading to the drying out of rivers previously used for fishing. Those affected by shortages in countries such as Mozambique have found a ‘solution’ in the form of auctioning off their young daughters in exchange for a trifling sum of money. Assuming that the current rate of child marriage persists, Unicef has predicted that there could be 320 million child brides by 2050. The issue is complex; the unstable livelihoods and incomes in rural areas and subsequent practice of child marriage brings about a myriad of issues in the early development of young girls as well as potential future impacts on mental wellbeing and the potential for domestic violence and neglect.

It is important to remember that child marriage is not exclusive to the continent of Africa but is also evident throughout Asian nations such as Bangladesh. As the insecurity of resources sown by the seeds of global warming has taken hold, Bangladeshis are forced to migrate to bigger cities in search of employment. Nevertheless, the practice differs between the continents in terms of the financial incentives involved. Child marriage in Mozambique often sees the bride’s family receiving a sum of money, whereas in Bangladesh the child’s father is expected to pay a dowry in order to pass the ‘burden’ of the child onto another family. While economic factors can be considered fundamental in the substantial increase in child marriage, cases in these affected nations show that families are willing to marry off their daughters even in times of financial stability. Girls are often seen as less ‘valuable’ to the family than boys. Such trends triggers questions about the patriarchal ideologies present in various African countries where female empowerment poses a threat to the hierarchy of power relations in society. Moreover, in Sub-Saharan African culture, where global warming has had severe impacts, being married can be perceived as a sign of respectability.

Some of the solutions aimed at ending the relationship between child marriage and climate change include far-reaching government intervention in the form of law implementation, as well as NGO action plans as a direct response to humanitarian disasters. The brutality of taking away a girl’s freedom has been a long-standing issue, with many socialist feminists claiming that it’s deeply rooted in class structure. However, now, in the age of economic advancement and constant talks about the damaging effects of climatic fluctuations, humanity needs to take charge in combating an issue which is devastating the lives of young girls.

Image - Unsplash

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