Floods washing away future of Pak children
CHILDREN are the biggest victims of any natural calamity whether it is earthquake, viral outbreak or flood.
Recent generations of Pakistani children have experienced all these disasters, which caused loss of education, issues in access to healthcare services, loss of shelter or shortage of food supply due to their parents losing their jobs.
Unfortunately, the recent floods have made future of millions of Pakistani children extremely vulnerable.
As of September 9, 2022 more than 33 million people have been affected by the floods. UNICEF estimates that children account for nearly half of this figure.
According to Government of Pakistan’s official statistics, out of 1200 deaths till first week of September, 499 were children.
The ravaging waters have destroyed 568,817 houses and damaged further 1,174,528 thus making children’s well-being difficult.
The untimed and unplanned evacuation due to floods has also separated many children from their families.
Reuniting them will remain a major challenge for government officials, as children belonging to several flood hit districts do not have proper birth registration.
The floods also pose severe risks for the surviving children. Diarrhoea, cholera and dengue have begun to spread in flood-hit areas and Pakistani children, 40% of whom are already suffering from stunting, cannot face these waterborne diseases.
As floods have cut off access to many areas, newborn children and infants are at risk due to lack of vaccination and baby food.
Besides the obvious threat of shelter and food, there are several challenges faced by children during natural disasters, which are often ignored.
Approximately 18,000 schools have been damaged or destroyed across the country. This severe loss and the projected increase in poverty will result in children losing their education.
According to official statistics, Pakistan already has the 2nd largest population of out-of-school children (age 05 to 16) in the world.
This number amounted to 22.8 million as of 2018. If no measures are taken, this generation of children which has already suffered loss of education due to COVID-19 pandemic, will struggle to get sustainable income in their future.
Frequent evacuations and migrations will force parents to make their children earn their own bread, which will increase child labour.
According to Pakistan Labour Force Survey 2017-18, 8.2% children aged 10-14 are engaged in child labour and 32.6% children aged 15-19 are working.
Due to the availability of free hands, child domestic labour can rise to unprecedented levels, especially in harsh working environment, which often includes physical and sexual violence.
The unplanned migration can also benefit the criminal outfits that can resort to kidnapping for trafficking, begging and using children in criminal activities.
Overcoming the challenge posed by floods requires collective and holistic efforts, which should not end at response level.
As highlighted by UNICEF, mechanisms are required to ensure that children and vulnerable communities are not exploited at any level.
Children’s health and education should remain utmost priority of the provincial and federal governments and all political rivalries should be cast side during this time of need.
The effects of climate change will not disappear easily and unless we are ready for the next cycles, our children will suffer more.
—The writer is Programme Manager, Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, SPARC, Islamabad.