Australia’s drought leading to ‘suffering’ of children, UN warns

Children speak to the BBC about their experiences last year

A prolonged drought in Australia is having a devastating impact on children and forcing them to “grow up” prematurely, a UN report warns.

Large parts of eastern Australia have endured severe drought for months, crippling farming communities.

Children in these areas are resilient but endure a growing psychological toll, said the UN’s children’s agency.

Many children have “long and stressful” days that involve witnessing strain on their parents and animals, Unicef said.

“Workloads for children on and off farms have increased substantially, leaving little time for schoolwork and almost no time for play, sport or other recreational activities,” the agency said in its report.

One high school student told researchers: “Before the start of this year I’d never shot a lamb in my life – and I’ve done probably about 50 or so this year… it is just normal now.”

Others described high levels of stress at home, with one girl saying: “You’re walking on eggshells.”

Unicef released the report on Tuesday after interviewing children aged five-16 from rural communities in New South Wales, a state that is entirely drought-affected.

What else are children coping with?

  • A lack of quality time spent with parents and siblings
  • Fears about their future education and job prospects
  • Feelings of exhaustion

The report said that children had a strong desire to help their families and communities, but often felt powerless.

“These young people care deeply about and are abundantly aware of the trauma their parents are going through,” said Oliver White from Unicef Australia.

Girls in a drought-affected town stick notes on a whiteboard. Notes read: "Expressing feelings" and "Laugh and have fun"
UNICEF AUSTRALIA

The drought is being felt in numerous rural communities

“At the same time, [they] are operating with the over-arching attitude that they shouldn’t talk about their own psychological reactions and concerns because ‘it is always worse for someone else,'” he said.

The agency has called for the Australian government to direct more of its drought-relief funding towards children’s programmes.

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