Forbes India – Climate Change, Global Warming: Climate Disasters Force Children in Bangladesh to Leave Classrooms for Work

Alamin, 12, whose family lost their home to erosion caused by climate change, works as part of a shipbreaking team in Keraniganj, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, March 22, 2022. Image : Thomson Reuters Foundation/Mosabber Hossain
DHAKA, May 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Twelve-year-old Alamin’s home rested on the bank of the Ilsha River in southern Bangladesh until last year when the river flooded the eroded and the family’s farmland moved away, forcing them to flee to a slum in Keraniganj, near the capital Dhaka.

Today, Alamin – whose father died of cancer a few years ago – works in a shipbreaking team and his mother cooks for the workers. Together they earn just enough to feed and house themselves and Alamin’s two younger siblings, who are now 3 and 5 years old.

“We used to be solvent. My husband was earning from our farmland and my son was reading at a local primary school,” said Amina Begum, Alamin’s mother.

But after losing their property to the river and their savings to failed cancer treatments, the job is all Alamin can hope for now, she lamented.

As more extreme weather conditions worsen flooding, erosion and storms in the lowlands of Bangladesh, thousands of families like his are moving to the slums of Dhaka.

For many of their children – who are battling the effects of climate change alongside their parents – the move means the end of education and the start of a life of hard work.

In an August report, UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, said children in the South Asian countries of Bangladesh, Afghanistan and India now face “extremely high” risks related to the impacts of climate change.

Globally, around one billion children in 33 countries face this level of threat, he added.

“For the first time, we have clear evidence of the impact of climate change on millions of children in South Asia,” said George Laryea-Adjei, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia, in the report.

Droughts, floods and eroding rivers in the region have left millions of children homeless, hungry, without health care and clean water – and in many cases out of school, officials said from UNICEF.

“Climate change has created an alarming crisis for South Asian children,” noted 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 pushing many formerly rural families into urban slums.

Children, who make up around 40% of the country’s population of more than 160 million, pay a particularly high price in the move, researchers say.

According to UNICEF, most Bangladeshi children who do not attend primary school live in urban slums or in hard-to-reach or disaster-prone areas.

About 1.7 million children in the country are laborers, with one in four aged 11 or younger, according to the agency’s research. Girls, who often work as domestic workers, rarely even appear in statistics, UNICEF noted.

In the slums around Dhaka, children are evident working in tanneries, shipyards, tailoring or auto repair.

Others work in vegetable markets or carry luggage at bus, train and ferry stations.

Many say they once lived in the countryside, before being forced into the city.

Alauddin, 10, whose family lost their home to floods last year, works at a vegetable stall in Dhaka, Bangladesh, March 18, 2022. Image: Thomson Reuters Foundation/Mosabber Hossain

A sweaty 10-year-old Alauddin has been working in a vegetable market in Dhaka for a few months, doing tasks such as cleaning and moving potatoes in metal bowls that he can barely move.

He said he used to study at Debraipatch Primary School, near the northeast town of Jamalpur, until a powerful flood last year destroyed the school as well as his family’s house 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 earns the family finances 100 taka ($1.15) a day, money the family cannot live without, his father said.

“My children will never go back to school,” he admitted. “We struggle with rent and our daily livelihood. How would we support (my son’s) education costs?”

Mohibul Hasan Chowdhury, Bangladesh’s deputy 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 a few were washed away entirely, most have since dried up – but only a few have been repaired enough to be available for lessons, he said.

The new flood-related closures follow long 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 10.24 million students attending 65,000 public primary schools – but noted that the dropout rate in 2021 was over 17%, with more than 2 million children leaving school.

The impacts of global warming have been a major driver of this flight from classrooms, education officials said.

Alamgir Mohammad Mansurul Alam, director general of the Directorate of Primary Education, called the dropout rate “alarming” and noted that “one of the main reasons is climate change”.

“Last year, we observed that more than 500 schools were damaged by the floods. Students could not go to school for a long time,” he said in an interview.

What has become apparent, he said, is that “many of them never go back to school and are involved in different jobs to support their families.”

More than 14,000 private primary schools in Bangladesh have also been closed at least temporarily by the COVID-19 pandemic, said Iqbal Bahar Chowdhury, president of the country’s private primary school association.

A total of 37 million children in Bangladesh have had their education disrupted by school closures since the pandemic began in 2020, according to an October report by UNICEF and UNESCO, the United Nations United Nations for education, science and culture.

Big burdens, small shoulders

Rupa, 9, is one of 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 living in a slum near Dhaka.

Rupa, 9, who migrated to an urban slum last year after a cyclone destroyed her rural home, unloads watermelons at Sadarghat, a wharf near Dhaka, Bangladesh, March 22, 2022. Image: Thomson Foundation Reuters/Mosabber Hossain

Rupa’s mother eventually abandoned her blind husband, who could not work, leaving her daughter with him. The girl now earns 100 taka ($1.15) a day by helping unload watermelons on the dock.

“I realize it’s really hard for a little girl to work with adult workers, but I’m 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 who are forced to work due to extreme weather or other impacts of climate change.

“I was surprised to see many girls under 10 working in a factory near Keraniganj, where women’s dresses are made,” she said.

“I spoke to them and they told me that most of them come from climate-vulnerable regions like Barisal, Khulna and Satkhira – and all of them have dropped out of school,” she added.

Children who are forced to work can suffer both physical and mental harm and lose their chance to access education, which can restrict their future opportunities and lead to intergenerational cycles of poverty and child labour, said Tuomo Poutiainen, director of the ILO office in Bangladesh. .

“Children are paying a high price for climate change,” added Sheldon Yett, UNICEF Representative in Bangladesh.

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Teresa H. Sadler