• Culture

COP27: Why without human rights there is no climate justice

Climate change is pushing women and children into modern slavery

By Missing Perspectives writer Mahima Jain

As COP27 runs into its second week, an international contingent of over 120 political government heads thrashing out climate commitments and a co-ordinated road map out of the climate change disaster lane, climate change is making women and children vulnerable to trafficking in various parts of the world. 

The World Bank estimates that 143 million people will be displaced and forced to migrate by 2050 due to climate change: 86 million in Sub-Saharan Africa, 40 million in South Asia and 17 million in Latin America. Many among these will end up in vulnerable situations, where they will face “increased risks of human rights violations,” according to the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons. Experts say women and children displaced because of climate change can end up in modern forms of slavery as well as trafficked into prostitution. 

According to Ritu Bharadwaj, Principal Scientist at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), who is attending the ongoing 27th UN Conference of Parties (COP) in Cairo, Egypt, people move because of slow onset disasters like droughts and rising sea levels as well as rapid onset disasters like cyclones, floods and hurricanes.

She says for the first time, there is a Climate Mobility pavilion at the COP to discuss the impacts and future of migration. Bharadwaj and her colleagues from across the world will be sharing their findings on climate change, displacement and vulnerability to trafficking here.

Bharadwaj has researched and co-authored cases of climate change, migration and vulnerability to trafficking in Asia and Africa. She found that the trafficking of women and girls was rampant in most areas regardless of what the climate change-related event was. 

But in places facing slow-onset climate change disasters–such as droughts or sea level rise that aren’t always headline-grabbing and don’t happen overnight–trafficking was significantly higher and was going unnoticed, she said. 

In one drought-affected district in Jharkhand in central India 42 per cent of the migrant population was trafficked, while in the neighbouring state of Odisha which was impacted by cyclones, it was 16 per cent.

“I thought the data was wrong, and went back to the field to double check,” Bharadwaj says, explaining how shocked she was at the findings that places with slow onset events see twice the rates of trafficking when compared with rapid onset events. 

Raghuveer, founder of Tharuni, a nonprofit empowering women and girls, has helped hundreds of drought-affected women out of trafficking.

“The vulnerability women and children face pushes them into the clutches of evil people. They are the first to be affected,” she says.

Therefore it is of critical importance to reduce that vulnerability, Bharadwaj says. In her work, she has found social security support, protective schemes and help lines for migrant women and children to be effective solutions in addressing vulnerability.


Mahima Jain is an award-winning independent science journalist based in India. She reports on the environment, gender, health, and socio-economic issues. Her features, long-form stories, and podcasts for Indian and global media outlets aim to cover systemic issues.


This is an edited version of an article originally published on Missing Perspectives


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