The house of 12-year-old Alamin rested on the banks of the Ilsha River in southern Bangladesh until last year, when rising rivers eroded it and destroyed the family’s farmland, forcing them to flee. to a slum in Keraniganj, near the capital, Dhaka.
Now Alamin, whose father died of cancer a couple of years ago, works on a shipbreaking crew and his mother cooks for the workers. Together they earn enough to feed and house Alamin’s two younger brothers, now 3 and 5 years old.
“Once we were solvent. My husband was earning from our arable land and my son was reading at a local primary school,” said his mother, Amina Begum.
But after losing his river property and savings to failed cancer treatments, all Alamin can now look forward to is work, he lamented.
I eat more Extreme weather causes worsening floods, erosion and storms in low-lying areas of Bangladesh, thousands of families like yours are moving to the slums of Dhaka.
For many of their children, who are fighting the impacts of climate change alongside their parents, the measure means the end of education and the beginning of a hard work life.
In an August report, UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, said children in the South Asian nations of Bangladesh, Afghanistan and India now face “extremely high” risks from the impacts of climate change.
Globally, about a billion children in 33 countries face that level of threat, it added.
“For the first time, we have clear evidence of the impact of climate change on millions of children in South Asia,” George Laryea-Adjei, UNICEF’s regional director for South Asia, said in the report.
droughts, flooding and river erosion across the region they have left millions of children homeless, hungry, without health care or clean water and, in many cases, out of school, UNICEF officials said.
“Climate change has created an alarming crisis for children in South Asia,” said Laryea-Adjei.
1.7 million working children
In Bangladesh, a fertile delta nation of nearly 700 rivers, a difficult combination of increased erosion from flooding and little land for resettlement is leading many once rural families in urban slums.
Children, who make up about 40 percent of the country’s population of more than 160 million, are paying a particularly high price for the move, the researchers say.
Most Bangladeshi children who do not attend primary school live in urban slums or in hard-to-reach or disaster-prone areas, according to UNICEF.
About 1.7 million children in the country are laborers, one in four of them is 11 years old or younger, the agency’s research shows. Girls, who often work as domestic servants, rarely appear in the statistics, UNICEF noted.
In the slums around Dhaka, children are in evidence and work in tanneries, shipyards, tailor shops or car repair shops. Others work in vegetable markets or carry luggage at bus, train and ship terminals.
Many say they once lived in the country before being forced to live in the city.
A sweaty 10-year-old Alauddin has worked in a vegetable market in Dhaka for a few months, doing things like cleaning and carrying potatoes in metal bowls he can barely lift.
He said he used to attend Debraipatch Primary School, near the northeastern city of Jamalpur, until a heavy flood last year destroyed the school and his family’s home and land.
They moved to a slum in Dhaka, where her father now pulls a rickshaw and her mother works part-time as a cleaner at a private school.
Alauddin’s job contributes 100 taka ($1.15) a day to the family finances, money the family cannot do without, his father said.
“My children will never go back to school,” he admitted. “We are struggling with rent and our daily livelihood. how would we bear [my son’s] educational expenses?
Mohibul Hasan Chowdhury, Bangladesh’s deputy state education minister, said in a telephone interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation that last year’s floods inundated more than 500 educational institutions in 10 districts across the country.
While some were washed away completely, most have since dried up, but only a few have been repaired enough to be available for classes, he said.
The new flood-related closures come on the heels of lengthy pandemic-related closures, and mean even children who don’t have to work are still out of classrooms in many places.
Bangladesh’s annual primary school census for 2021 showed that 10.24 million students attended 65,000 government primary schools, but noted that the dropout rate in 2021 was over 17%, with more than 2 million children they dropped out of school.
The impacts of global warming were one of the main drivers of that flight from classrooms, education officials said.
Alamgir Mohammad Mansurul Alam, director general of the Primary Education Directorate, called the dropout rate “alarming” and noted that “one of the main reasons is climate change.”
“Last year we saw more than 500 schools damaged by flooding. The students were not able to go to school for a long time,” she said in an interview.
What has become clear, he said, is that “a large number of them never return to school and take different jobs to support their families.”
More than 14,000 private primary schools in Bangladesh have also been closed at least temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Iqbal Bahar Chowdhury, president of the country’s private primary schools association.
In total, 37 million children in Bangladesh have had their education disrupted by school closures since the start of the pandemic in 2020, according to a joint October report by UNICEF and UNESCO.
Rupa, 9, is among the children who now work instead of going to school.
After her family’s home in Khulna Shyamnagar was destroyed by a cyclone last year, her family came to join an aunt who lived in a slum near Dhaka.
Rupa’s mother eventually left her blind husband, who was unable to work, and left her daughter with him. The girl now earns 100 taka ($1.15) a day helping unload watermelons at the pier.
“I realize that it is very difficult for a little girl to work with adult workers, but I am helpless. I also have a one-year-old baby and a family to support,” said her aunt, who works as a cook.
Syeda Munira Sultana, national project coordinator for the International Labor Organization in Bangladesh, said she has met many girls like Rupa, forced to work by extreme weather or other impacts of climate change. “I was surprised to see many girls under the age of 10 working in a factory near Keraniganj, where women’s dresses are produced,” she said.
“I spoke to them and they told me that most of them came from climate-vulnerable areas like Barisal, Khulna and Satkhira, and all of them dropped out of school,” he added.
Children forced to work can suffer both physical and mental harm, as well as lose their opportunity for education, which can restrict their future opportunities and lead to intergenerational cycles of poverty and child labour, said Tuomo Poutiainen, director of the office of the ILO in Bangladesh. .
“Children are paying a heavy price for climate change,” added Shelton Yett, UNICEF representative in Bangladesh.