New data collected by UNICEF exposes how girls as young as 12 are being forced into marriage across the Horn of Africa at alarming rates as a result of severe droughts driven by climate change.
Families forced to take desperate measures
As water sources dry up and the price of food and fuel spike, girls across Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia are at high risk of dropping out of school as families are pushed into desperate economic situations. To financially support themselves, families are forcing their daughters into marriage in order to secure dowries and to minimise the number of people in a family they have to feed.
In just three months, the number of children at risk of dropping out of school across the Horn of Africa jumped from 1.1 million to 3.3 million with the number of children forced into marriage more than doubling in Ethiopia between the time period January – March 2021 compared to the same period in 2022.
“We are seeing alarming rates of child marriage and FGM across the Horn of Africa – with some destitute families arranging to marry off girls as young as twelve to men more than five times their age,” says Andy Brooks, UNICEF’s Regional Child Protection Advisor for Eastern and Southern Africa.
“Child marriage and FGM end childhoods – driving girls out of school and leaving them more vulnerable to domestic violence and a lifetime of poverty. The figures we have do not capture the magnitude of the problem: large swathes of the Horn of Africa have no specialist facilities where cases can be reported. This is a children’s crisis, and we urgently need more funding to scale up our response in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia – not only to save lives in the short-term but to protect them in the long-term.”
Climate change is driving modern slavery
This is just one example of how climate change and modern slavery are interlinked through a horrifying cycle in which one feeds into the other. Like modern slavery, the consequences of climate change come with a human cost, driving inequality and leading to new vulnerabilities to exploitation as a result caused by the loss of livelihoods and income.
Freedom United is calling for an end to forced child marriage around the world, but solutions must be holistic and take into account drivers such as climate change.
Alongside adopting legislation to make child marriage illegal, governments around the world must step up to and take adequate climate action to prevent perpetuating the conditions that are driving families to take desperate measures.
Read more about the links between climate change and modern slavery on our dedicated Speak Free, and sign the petition against forced child marriage here.