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S.Asian children abused, put to work after climate disasters

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 16 Oct 2012 14:53 GMT
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p>LONDON (AlertNet) - South Asian children suffer physical violence and sexual abuse in the wake of climate-related disasters, and some are sent out to work or to beg for food and money, according to new research that includes firsthand accounts from children.

Interviews, group discussions and consultations with more than 3,400 disaster-affected children and nearly 1,200 adults revealed "challenges" to children's safety and protection, says a briefing from the Overseas Development Institute and charity Plan International.

For example, children in Thatta in southern Pakistan spoke of being beaten by their parents while living in camps set up after the country's 2010 flooding disaster, as well as being sent to beg.

Across South Asia children said older family members displaced by climate-related disasters were "highly stressed".

"More extreme accounts reported children going missing in the camps and a widespread fear among children that they would be kidnapped," the report says, referring to the research in Pakistan.

In consultations in Bangladesh, boys and girls aged 12 to 17 reported sexual and physical abuse by relatives following disasters, but said they felt unable to share these experiences with family or friends.

"Girls cannot go out that much during the floods. Because bad men try to touch them intentionally. Then girls come home and cry, but cannot complain to anybody," one Bangladeshi girl from an urban slum in Gazipur District is quoted as saying.

SCHOOL SACRIFICED

The research, conducted this year by Plan and regional partners, took place in 104 villages across Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, with differing climates.

It also highlights how children are often forced to work to support their families – during and after disasters like flooding, droughts and storms – due to a lack of income and sometimes food.

In Pakistan's Thatta district, children from communities forced from their homes by the 2010 floods told of selling popcorn and peanuts in winter and balloons in summer, as well as working as domestic servants. Others became water vendors, transporting cans of drinking water on donkey carts, often for more than 16 hours a day, the report says. Some girls were forced to sing and dance at private parties, and even to sell their bodies, it adds.

Bangladeshi boys from Bagerhat reported being unable to attend school, instead doing risky jobs such as manual labour or rickshaw driving.

Research in Nepal shows how climate-related disasters restrict children's access to education, particularly girls, who Nepalese children said are the first to be taken out of school in hard times.

Nepalese children spoke of their schools being used as evacuation shelters, of collapsed roads and bridges forcing them to walk further or making it impossible to reach school, and of school books and equipment being soaked and damaged after being exposed to bad weather.

The briefing says there is little recognition of the potentially life-long impact of climate change and related disasters on the wellbeing of South Asia's children. It warns that the risks are likely to worsen as extreme climate and weather events increase in the coming decades.

"In a region that accounts for more than one quarter of the world's children, with 614 million children under 18, girls and boys must receive greater priority in measures to respond to disasters and in disaster risk reduction planning," it urges.

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