Urbanization leaves hundreds of millions of children in cities and towns around the world, excluded from vital services, UNICEF says in The State of the World’s Children 2012: Children in an Urban World.
Greater urbanization is inevitable. In a few years, the report says, the majority of children will grow up in towns or cities rather than in rural areas. Globally, children born in cities already account for 60 per cent of the increase in urban population.
More than 50 per cent of the world’s population now lives in urban areas. In India the number is 377 million according to Census 2011. This number is growing. By 2026, and estimated 535 million people will live in towns and cities; 40 per cent of India’s population.
“Cities will continue to grow and more children will find themselves living in an urban world; a world that holds the promise for many of employment, development and economic growth”, said UNICEF India Representative, Dr Karin Hulshof, at the launch event held in New Delhi.” It is up to us to make sure that cities will live up to that promise. A life of equal opportunity and dignity for all children.”
Cities offer many children the advantages of urban schools, clinics and playgrounds. Yet the same cities the world over are also the settings for some of the greatest disparities in children’s health, education and opportunities. Mumbai, India’s financial capital and home to its film city is among the world’s biggest and richest cities.
It is also believed to contain the highest proportion and absolute number of slum dwellers. In India, there are approx. 50,000 slums and 70 per cent of these are concentrated in five states- Maharashtra (35 per cent), Andhra Pradesh (11 per cent), West Bengal (10 per cent), Tamil Nadu & Gujarat (7 per cent). The estimated number of people living in slums in India is 93 million, as per Ministry of Housing and Poverty Alleviation.
Infrastructure and services are not keeping up with urban growth in many regions around the world and children’s basic needs are not being met. Families living in poverty often pay more for substandard services. The deprivations endured by children in poor urban communities are often obscured by broad statistical averages that lump together all city dwellers – rich and poor alike.
When averages such as these are used in making urban policy and allocating resources, the needs of the poorest can be overlooked.
Making cities fit for children
A focus on equity is crucial – one in which priority is given to the most disadvantaged children wherever they live.
UNICEF urges governments to put children at the heart of urban planning and to extend and improve services for all.
To start, more focused, accurate data are needed to help identify disparities among children in urban areas and how to bridge them. The shortage of such data is evidence of the neglect of these issues.
While governments at all levels can do more, community-based action is also a key to success. The report calls for greater recognition of community-based efforts to tackle urban poverty and gives examples of effective partnerships with the urban poor, including children and adolescents.
These partnerships yield tangible results, such as better public infrastructure in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil; higher literacy rates in Cotacachi, Ecuador; and stronger disaster preparedness in Manila, Philippines. In Kolkata, Indian children mapped their sprawling slum on paper. The data they have gathered about Rishi Aurobindo Colony, Kolkata will be uploaded on Google Earth. In Nairobi, Kenya, adolescents mapped their slum community to provide information to urban planners.
In India, UNICEF is proud to be associated since 2010 with the “School Excellence Programme” in Mumbai enhancing learning outcomes of urban slum children aiming to reach almost half a million children. This is part of the promise to ensure that cities are liveable and safe places for millions of children who call them home.
At the global level, UNICEF and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) have worked together for 15 years on the Child-Friendly Cities Initiative building partnerships to put children at the centre of the urban agenda and to provide services and create protected areas so children can have the safer and healthier childhoods they deserve.
“Urbanization is a fact of life and we must invest more in cities, focusing greater attention on providing services to the children in greatest need,” Executive Director, UNICEF, Anthony Lake said.