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Climate change is now widely recognised as the major environmental problem facing the world, and children are disproportionately vulnerable to its impact. In many countries, young people are at the forefront of climate action, and our country is no exception. The specific nature of their vulnerability is multidimensional, shaped largely by the physical, social and emotional changes that take place over the course of childhood and school-going age. These changes are intensified by children’s heightened sensitivity to negative or high-impact events during the early stages of development and by their general lack of agency and voice. Despite the vulnerability of children, few studies have investigated how climate change will affect child development and well-being.


Substantial changes in the country’s climate are likely to be caused by variables such as rising temperatures, changing patterns of precipitation and differences in the frequency and intensity of extreme events. Each of these changes will have a significantly direct, physical impact on children. The effects of climate change are likely to impact heavily on low-income communities, where the capacity to adapt is low, and on the most vulnerable groups. The potential impact on food security, stability of food suppliers and access to food is likely to be affected. It further impacts food availability, and that is dependent on the income of the household and access to resources.

The poor nutritional status will have consequences of severe and prolonged possible infections and are often more frequent. There is an increased vulnerability in low-income communities with limited access to public health infrastructure, resources, capacity and a lack of basic services. The outcomes of poor health become worse the more remote an area is. Gender affects the distribution of power, resources, wealth, work, decision-making, political power, and the enjoyment of rights and entitlement. So, girls and women in many societies are seen as having subordinate positions and neglected capacities and like any other natural disaster, climate change threatens to increase existing inequalities.


Girls and women in rural areas are likely to be displaced because of climate change and this has direct implications for their safety, freedom, and security. Extreme weather changes have the potential to affect school performance by disrupting school attendance and hindering the length of time a learner is either absent from school, or their regular attendance. Some children walk for hours to reach their school, without proper or sufficient transport, and as a result may not be able to attend school when there is bad weather, worsening the deep divide of access to education in the country. Policies do not address the specific needs of gender groups in reducing vulnerability to climate change and variability to achieve the country’s national climate change policy objectives of gender justice. Effective representation and meaningful participation of children is a good starting point.

Then representation must move from passive referencing in development plans, to active integration and mainstreaming within all relevant decision-making processes. Children must be recognised formally as a unique social group and be formally represented in climate change policy development processes. Children need to be educated about more sustainable ways to adapt to our habitats and prepare them to adopt sustainable practices that reduce the impacts of climate change and the impact of climate change on their lives.

Nomfundo Mkhaba

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