On the walk to and from school, some students carry their shoes and walk barefoot to prevent their shoes from wearing out too quickly. In the rainy season, students wrap their textbooks in plastic to protect against the rain. Students described arriving soaking wet, freezing, and unable to focus after walking for hours in the rain to reach school.
THE Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is quite a comprehensive document, detailing global minimum child rights standards, but it does not seem to factor in climate change as one of the factors affecting children.
Whenever climate issues are discussed, the discourse does not normally include children.
This is further compounded by the rural and urban child dichotomy, where the former is routinely ignored and the latter overemphasised.
Citing the CRC alone may not be enough without a deliberate focus on rural children.
Rural children are often forgotten and only mentioned in passing, yet they are the most affected by natural phenomenon like droughts, diseases, famine and flooding.
The right of the child to participate and be heard is the other critical component of the children’s rights, but as portrayed by our current climate change gathering platforms, can we seriously say that the rural child has a significant impact at those gatherings?
Classifying children as either urban or rural may be seen as an act of discrimination, but we have no option, besides placing them in their appropriate contexts and realities.
When rural children are deliberately left out of climate change discussions, are we not discriminating or abusing them?
Children in urban and rural settings are not the same in terms of resource allocation and the environments they live in are literally worlds apart.
They have different climate concerns and using the blanket term “children” without referring to where they come from is actually discriminatory.
For example, some rural children have never seen clean and safe water, while urban water-borne diseases are constantly monitored.
Rural children bear the brunt of water scarcities and stresses from a tender age, while their urban counterparts have access to running water.
Some rural homes, because of lack of planning and adequate knowledge, are situated in low-lying areas prone to flooding and with the heavy rains houses that are being swept, soaked or submerged, leaving rural children as sitting ducks for climate change phenomena.
Although climate change affects food security at national levels, rural children bear its brunt more, as they are prone to malnutrition compared to their urban counterparts.
Climate change induced extreme weather does not only impact on children’s physical health, but it leaves long lasting and permanent mental and emotional scars, particularly on rural children.
Displacements of people because of floods and storms is more prevalent in rural areas, and women and children are the most affected.
Children displaced due to climate change-related flooding are then deprived of education and health facilities, as these are also affected by flooding.
Rural children are prime vulnerable groups without the power to influence their national climate policies.
Therefore, there is need to accommodate rural children in the climate change discourse, as they are uniquely affected.
Responsible authorities should create enabling environments that support children’s participation in issues of climate protection and literacy.
Rural children in low-lying communities need sustainable climate knowledge in order to help strengthen their communities’ infrastructure, disaster risk reduction and community early warning systems.
Rural children have suffered from climate injustice not only from their local communities but from governments as well.
This is because it is the government’s duty to meet the children’s needs, it is the government’s obligation to protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations.
Most importantly, these rural children should be made to realise that they are also part and parcel of the children’s rights being constantly talked about.
It is quite surprising that some groups in our societies continue to live large just from articulating the term “child abuse” without improving the lives of those children they purport to represent.
Rural children also need to see their climate needs being realised so that they participate meaningfully in adaptation programmes without leaving anyone behind.
As such, investing in the resilience of rural children would help in reducing and managing climate related risks.
Governments should always put rural children at the centre of their implementing efforts because they are not only children but they are the future.