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Age 20, H2OO Board Member and Youth Leader


Speaking Up for Girls at Mutually Assured Survival Priorities for Climate Action Panel

Forced child marriage is NOT a solution to the climate crisis.

To call attention to this, I spoke at the UN Association’s Mutually Assured Survival Climate Action panel that took place in October. As a participant, my goal was to spread awareness about the harmful, intersectional impacts of climate change on children, women, girls, and youth around the world.

The changing climate is causing ever more families affected by climate change to force their children into child marriage. The economic hardships of climate change will threaten to expose millions more children to gender-based violence, to defilement, rape, child trafficking, sexual exploitation, and child labor. These families are already so desperate in the face of present day economic threats –made worse by the Covid Pandemic–that they see the dowry income as their only chance for survival.

It does little to lift them out of extreme poverty, yet what other options do they have? This story is set to repeat itself all over the globe. An additional tragedy is that while the poor might seek short-term solutions to food insecurity, many around the globe do not recognize the role they are playing in bringing about such acts of desperation. By not taking climate change seriously they are adding to the toll of suffering borne by millions of children worldwide.

My job as an advocate for the welfare of girls and threatened communities is to help connect the dots for those who may not be aware of the consequences of doing too little to address climate change. Many innocent souls are being put in harm’s way. As I write this, in poor, middle income and even high income communities across the globe, it is estimated that 1.5 Billion children worldwide live without social protection and face threats to their wellbeing and safety. They are being robbed of childhood, quality education, and a chance to survive. Further, 1 in 10 children, nearly 160 Million worldwide, are engaged in work, and half of those work under hazardous conditions. [1]

According to Unicef, “The number of children in child labor declined by 85.5 million between 2000 and 2020, from 16% to 9.6%.” [2] Decades of efforts to end child labor then suffered a setback due to the economic havoc resulting from the Covid 19 pandemic.

The point I wanted to emphasize during my presentation was: Dealing with climate change must be a key focus of effort for those who want to see a reduction in child exploitation–in all its forms. As someone who has lived through and barely escaped child marriage, I would like to especially emphasize the vulnerability of girls. I would like to create more awareness about the connection between threats to children’s well-being and the economic devastation faced in impoverished, climate-vulnerable areas. These areas will see a decrease in the quality of life for children.

Business as usual means perpetuating long-standing inequalities that will only intensify this vicious cycle of poverty and lead to higher rates of child exploitation. If we want to change the outcome, we must tap into all available mitigation solutions and help the wider public see how the two are related.

If we want to do something to help prevent the exploitation of children, we have to shift our view of how these problems came about:

The climate crisis is not something that just suddenly arrived, but rather something we have created through actions and decisions. These, in turn, came from patriarchal systems and through profit-focused leadership. For example, allowing extractive industries to continuously exploit deep blue sea habitats despite its proven harm to our planet.

The climate crisis is a global problem. Reducing the rate at which it is spiraling can mean relief for those desperate enough to force children into labor and unwanted early marriage. All countries need to cooperate with and work with youth activists to find better alternative ways to reduce the impacts from both global crises.”

Latifah Speaking at the UNA’s Mutually Assured Survival Priorities Panel beginning at 14:58 min.