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El Nino drought forces African children out of school and into child labour or early marriage

A girl tries to collect water from a puddle in Nongoma, South Africa

Tens of thousands of children across southern Africa are being pushed out of school and into early marriage or child labour because of drought and hunger caused by the El Nino weather pattern, charities have said.

Southern Africa has been hard hit over the past year by an El Nino-inspired drought that has wilted crops, slowed economic growth and driven food prices higher.

Increased numbers of children are trading sex and doing domestic work to survive across nine countries, a report by World Vision, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Plan International said.

“El Nino’s impacts are worsening the lives of children in a number of areas with many facing sexual exploitation, violence, child labour and psychosocial distress,” World Vision UK’s child rights expert Tracy Shields said in a statement.

Food crisis may affect children’s development

Children have become separated from their families as they leave home to find work or food, the report said.

More than 60 million people, two-thirds of them in east and southern Africa, are facing food shortages because of droughts linked to El Nino, a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, according to the United Nations.   

The arrival of La Nina, a weather pattern which usually bringing floods to southern Africa, could worsen the situation, the UN has said. Meteorologists predict a 50% to 75% chance of La Nina developing in the second half of this year.

Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe have declared national drought emergencies.

South Africa has declared a drought emergency in eight of the country’s nine provinces, while Mozambique has declared an alert for some southern and central areas.

Southern Africa has a three-month window of opportunity before the 2016-17 planting season, to take urgent measures to prevent millions of rural families becoming dependent on humanitarian assistance in 2018, the UN has said.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change.

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