ChildFund white paper: The link between climate change and increased violence against children

ChildFund white paper: The link between climate change and increased violence against children

Actions we can take now to keep children safe in climate-affected communities 

Approximately one billion children globally live in countries considered to be extremely vulnerable to climate and environmental shocks and stresses and these risks increase children’s exposure to violence. Here's some key points from a new ChildFund white paper on the link between violence against children and climate-affected communities and the actions we can take to help, published by Barnfonden (ChildFund Sweden) in August 2022. 

How does climate change affect violence against children? 

Roughly one billion children aged 2-17 experience physical, sexual, or emotional violence each year. Climate change-exacerbated increases in droughts and water scarcity, floods, other natural disasters, and rising temperatures have effects on migration, conflict, poverty and food insecurity, psychosocial health, and stress. These in turn increase the incidence of violence against children, such as child labour, child marriage, sexual abuse, physical abuse, gender-based violence, neglect, trafficking and mental health issues.

Violence against children is multidimensional, with causes at the individual, close relationship, community, and societal levels. Violence against children has a lifelong impact on the health and well-being of a child.

The protection of children from all forms of violence is a fundamental right upheld in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, formal planning, policy and response systems and structures do not put ‘climate change’ and ‘protection of children from violence’ in the same space. As a result, duty bearers – including community leaders, governments, non-governmental organisations, and agencies influencing international structures – are not responding as quickly as they should to develop policies, prevention and recovery interventions. Lack of, or limited, documented evidence further inhibits action to protect children from violence caused by the effects of climate change.

In the rapidly changing climate we are experiencing, we cannot afford to sit on the bench. We need to strengthen the discourse on linking climate change and environmental degradation risks and protecting children from violence, especially at local levels where children are impacted the most. We need to go further than humanitarian response (where established guidelines exist) to strengthen multisectoral approaches in development interventions to protect children in a changing climate. In brief, we need to be more explicit and deliberate in making the link between climate change and violence against children in development programming.  

What is child-focused climate resilient development? 

Climate change is affecting families by placing stresses on them that can lead to increased violence. Figure 2 demonstrates the link based on previous published work of Barnfonden: Exploring the link between climate change and violence against children.

Conventional development and resilience-building projects seldom account for such impacts. The same can be said for child-focused climate change efforts. For example, UNICEF’s Children’s Climate Risk Index (CCRI) report, The Climate Crisis is a Child Rights Crisis 2021, presents measures indicating children’s vulnerability to climate risks. This index is missing measures related to violence. Such exclusions increase opportunities for the issue to be overlooked. Immediate attention must be paid to raising the status of climate change impacts in violence prevention recommendations, and heeding risks of violence against children in climate change impact discussions.

Barnfonden has a child-focused, climate-resilient development approach which:

• Applies a climate / risk to children lens over all their child-focused development work as they design programmes in health, education, child protection and sustainable livelihoods.

• Informs on how climate change has direct and downstream effects on children and youth to raise awareness and identify behavioural, systemic and structural weaknesses that need to be addressed.

• Prepares communities, including child protection structures, to anticipate and respond to keeping children safe from violence, while strengthening their resiliency to better withstand climate and environmental risks.

• Focuses on children claiming their rights, which includes the meaningful participation of children and youth.

This paper focuses on actions centred around SDG 16.2: Ending violence against children and SDG 13 (see ). It recommends four actions we can take now to incorporate child protection into development and resilience-building programmes for communities afflicted by climate change.

How can we strengthen current strategies to end violence against children? 

  • Action 1. Acknowledge that climate change is increasing levels of violence against children, and strengthen and test the evidence to demonstrate this. 

  • Action 2. Strengthen the prevention of violence against children through livelihood resilience; address social norms and develop school-based programmes. 

  • Action 3. Strengthen prevention and response services to incorporate the increasing risk of violence against children, and promote anticipatory action. 

  • Action 4. Listen to, engage and support children and youth in planning and solutionfinding to end violence against children, in a changing climate. 

Conclusion summary 

This paper suggests that:

  • Not enough is being done to demonstrate how the impacts of climate change are intensifying child protection risks related to violence against children, particularly in ‘conventional’ development programming.

  • Immediate action is required to co-ordinate climate change adaptation strategies and disaster preparedness and responses with violence prevention actions, to keep children safe.

  • A child-focused, climate resilient development approach can be an entry point to creating effective ways to protect children from violence in a changing climate in the development sector. 

Read the full white paper here. This white paper has been published by ChildFund (Barnfonden, ChildFund Sweden) in August 2022. It is aimed at authorities and development practitioners – those working with communities and national and global structures to address the effects of climate change and environmental degradation, as well as those working on issues related to ending violence against children. 


For media queries or interviews contact ChildFund New Zealand Engagement Manager Carolyn Brooke on or 0272859978.