Brian Kaitano, Maseno University Kenya alumnus and young voice writer on Kenyan affairs in the context of the UN SDGs, shares the adverse effects of climate change on children’s rights in Kenya and how to tackle them.
Climate Change: The biggest impediment to child rights in Kenya by Brian Kaitano.
Kenya has a young, ambitious, and well-educated workforce eager to contribute to the development of the country and the world at large. According to the 2019 National Housing and Population Census Report, Kenya has a population of about 47,564,296. With children representing a sizeable 48% of this, they represent a key segment of society and attract consistent government efforts to promote human rights. Moreover, the Government of Kenya (GoK) become a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) on 30th July 1990 becoming the 20th member state to ratify the instrument.
Enter climate change, the risks of which pose serious threats to Kenya’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including those relating to human rights and children. The country’s economy is largely dependent on rain-fed agriculture, tourism and natural resources, sectors that are susceptible to climate variability, change and extreme weather. Kenya’s updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) that was submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December 2020 notes that excessive climate change results in socio-economic losses estimated at 3-4% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually, thereby impeding development efforts.
Human activities contribute greatly to the occurrence and severity of environmental hazards such as floods and droughts in Kenya. Other causes include low and unreliable rainfall causing little or no vegetation, high temperatures which cause high rates of evaporation, combined with hot dry winds, or low temperatures which reduces air capacity to hold moisture causing regions to receive little or no rain.
Child rights deprivations resulting from climate change in Kenya
Children are the largest and most vulnerable group affected by climate change. As temperatures increase and water becomes scarcer, it is children who will feel the deadliest impact of waterborne diseases and malnutrition with thousands made sick by polluted water. Up to two-thirds of preventable illness and deaths from environmental hazards is experienced by children predominantly aged under 5 years.
Indeed, climate change carries with it a long list of direct or indirect effects on children. When water is scarce, it is the children who bear the brunt, often walking long distances in search of water sources. Not only does water scarcity expose children to environmental and health-related risks, it also leads to safety-related risks such as sexual abuse, displacement of children and their families with an impact on children’s welfare, and, due to long hours spent searching for water, depriving children of their right to education.
At the same time, developmental gains in education are offset due to damage or destruction of school facilities, extended disruption of education, and limited access to schooling. As a coping mechanism in some parts of coastal Kenya, children engage in transactional sex which is detrimental to their well-being. Moreover, data shows an increase in cases of child marriage escalating during drought seasons as a coping mechanism in exchange for dowry to feed the rest of the siblings.
Added to that, air pollution in Kenya is an increasing environmental hazard that affects communities living in both rural areas and towns. It contributes to health complications – asthma, dust allergy, heart disease and also cancer. Burning fossil fuels and other environmental contaminants mean that children remain at increased risk of respiratory infections including pneumonia.
Measures taken by the GoK to promote child rights
The UNCRC was integrated in Kenyan law by enacting the Children Act in 2001, a major milestone in the promotion and protection of children’s rights and welfare in Kenya. To address the emerging issues brought by technological, socio-cultural, economic, and political changes and align the Children Act of 2001 to the Constitution, the state Party implemented the Children Bill No. 58 of 2021 that was passed by parliament. There are also numerous appropriate child rights specific laws, regulations, policies, procedures and guidelines to further safeguard the rights and welfare of children in the country. With all these efforts in place however, children in Kenya continue to experience many challenges including those brought about by the effects of climate change.
Solutions by the GoK in tackling climate change
The GoK has put measures in place to pursue a low carbon and resilient development pathway to help realize its Vision 2030: to transform Kenya into a newly industrializing middle-income country. Furthermore, Kenya submitted an updated, more ambitious Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) on December 24, 2020, with a commitment to abate greenhouse gases by 32% by 2030 relative to the business-as-usual scenario, and in line with its sustainable development agenda and national circumstances.
Indeed, Kenya is a leader in in addressing climate change and was one of the first countries in Africa to enact a comprehensive law and policy to guide national and local climate action. The Climate Change Act 2016 and the National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP) 2018-2022 provided guidance for low-carbon and climate resilient development. Kenya’s priorities are articulated through these and other instruments including: adaptation afforestation and reforestation, landscape restoration, climate-smart agriculture, geothermal and clean energy development energy efficiency, and drought and flood risk management.
Challenges facing the GoK while tackling climate change
Despite the considerable progress made in the last decade towards building governance systems for climate change adaptation in Kenya, implementation still limits progress. Some of the challenges facing the GoK while tackling climate change include:
- Communication disconnect between national, local, and community levels
- Limited technical capacity and funding
- Political interference
- Lack of effective public education
- And absence of functional implementation structures.
However, Kenya is not alone. The country has received much support from international organizations including World Vision, Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), among many. For example, USAID supports GoK developments and climate priorities through programs and partnerships addressing climate adaptation and resilience building, renewable energy, and natural climate solutions. USAID has also supported the development of key GoK policy documents, including the Climate Change Framework Policy, the Climate Change Act, and the Climate Change Finance Policy.
Every child has the right to both a healthy and safe environment today – and a sustainable future. There is no time to waste, and children are asking us to act now. Without support to adapt, climate change will continue to affect Kenya’s children with many current impacts increasing in intensity. Kenya needs the comprehensive expansion of adaptation programs to respond to the impact of climate change both now and in the future to alleviate the vulnerability that children face from the worst impacts of climate change. In that light, to safeguard the rights of children in Kenya, a range of programs are required to provide children and communities with the support, skills and infrastructure they need to survive and develop in the face of climatic uncertainty. These programs can include interventions such as:
- Early warning systems for malnutrition to ensure preventive measures to counter the impact of food insecurity on children.
- Rainwater harvesting and flood proof sanitization to guarantee safe sources of drinking water, prevent adverse health risks to children, and to stop the spread of disease.
- An increase in the number of child-friendly schools and child protection centers in key regions in Kenya to ensure that children have the right services in place to meet their needs in the face livelihood insecurity and the increasing rural-to-urban migration that may be triggered by climate change.
- Increased health preventive programs to combat the migration of disease vectors to new regions and to prevent an increase of disease in existing regions
- Strong cooperation from local, national and international levels to facilitate funding and other support in tackling climate change while promoting child rights in Kenya.
- Crisis Group (2023). Absorbing Climate Shocks and Easing Conflict in Kenya’s Rift Valley.
- Ruth Townend (2022). Governments face losing the battle against climate change.
- UNCCD (2017). Climate change in Kenya: Focus on children.
- UNICEF (2023). Children in 98% of African countries at high or extremely high risk of the impacts of climate change.
- Link up with Brian Kaitano via LinkedIn
- Follow on X @KaitanoBrian
- Read Brian Kaitano’s previous article on CoBS Insights
- Read a related article: Children, adolescents, and large-scale projects in Brazil.
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