Climate change and children’s education right
Access to education is one of the fundamental rights each and every Malawian has been accorded, especially children, for personal growth and community development. Section 25 of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi provides for the right to education. It usually is of great concern when children at primary school level face impediments in the attainment and enjoyment of their right to education, particularly when this happens due to impact of climate change.
This is the case with children in Group Village Headman (GVH) Kathebwe’s area in Zomba District where because of the 2019 floods and again, current high levels of water in rivers within the area, children are facing challenges to attend classes and some of them do not even bother to go to school altogether to protect their lives.
GVH Kathebwe has 22 villages, and children from all the villages go to one primary school. During the 2019 floods, people in this area camped at the school from February to April which interrupted the school term as schoolblocks were being used for shelter. According to community members, the use of the school as an evacuation centre affected many learners because when they went back home, many of them dropped out of school and got used to doing piecework for food and other basic needs.
“Children’s education has been greatly affected by last year’s floods; they did not attend classes the whole period we were at the camp because classrooms were being used as our homes and they could not learn outside as the environment was not conducive. Many children also lost education resources like textbooks, notebooks, pens and all they use in class because there was no time to rescue them as delays to escape the floods could result into loss of lives; we rushed with them to the camp with nothing,” Alex James, one of the community members, said
This year’s natural occurences continue to affect children’s education in the area as the rate of absenteeism among both teachers and learners has increased due to high levels of water. For many children and teachers to get to Kathebwe Primary School, they cross Chitambala and Nanjoka rivers. These rivers have accumulated high levels of water which have submerged bridges and fishermen’s boats are being used as means of transport at a fee. Sometimes upon assessing the situation, teachers and children do not dare cross the rivers because it is not safe, and this denies the children access to education in the rainy season.
“As parents, we try hard to make sure our children go to school but it is difficult most of the times. We pay K200 for one way crossing of each child by boat. Some have five, four or three children and they all need to go to school; most parents do not manage, as a result, their children do not go to school. It is difficult to find money every day here in the village, especially this farming season; unfortunately, it is the time we face these challenges. There is no hope for our children’s future unless proper bridges and drainage systems are constructed considering that this is a disaster prone area as the floods have been persistent for three years now,” James added.
The story is not much different in neighbouring GVH Chaweza’s area where the roofs of the only two blocks at Namatamba Primary School were blown off by strong winds that came with heavy rains. Standard Eight and Seven are sharing a makeshift tent that was provided by people of goodwill to make sure the school is not closed due to lack of classrooms.
As a way of building communities resilience from climate change shocks and advocating for climate change justice, Catholic Development Commission (Cadecom), with funding from Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF) and Troicare, is implementing Climate Challenge Program Malawi in flood prone areas of Zomba, Machinga, Balaka, Chikwawa districts.
Cadecom Assistant Programmes Coordinator Aaron Mtaya said there are a number of injustices being registered on the ground due to effects of climate change
“Human rights are being robbed off; one of them being the right to education. During last year’s floods, a lot of people lost their lives and schools were disturbed as they were used as camp sites. It is likely that they will experience the same this year as the floods have already started. We feel there is need for the government to have readily available resources to respond quickly to climate change shocks, they should establish evacuation centers so that schools should be free and children should continue accessing education despite the floods,” Mtaya said.
GVH Kathebwe said stakeholders should visit the area during the rainy season when the rivers are flooding, so that they can see for themselves how people struggle.
He further called on government, non-governmental organisations and other well-wishers to assist his area by constructing up to date bridges which will accommodate the high levels of water so that children should go to school during the rainy season safely and continuously.
A total of 1139 families were affected by the 2019 floods in the area.
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