|Picture from UNICEF's facebook page.|
UNICEF launched its flagship report, The State of the World's Children: Children in an Urban World, in Mexico City on 28 February 2012. The focus on the Report was on urban areas because half of the world's population, including more than a billion children, now live in cities and towns. Reading it made me think of some of my own observations of a city of great contrasts: Cape Town. I will write a separate post about the children's projects I have worked with there. Here is a brief look at what the Report says:
The Growing Urban Population
In 2050, seven out of ten people will live in urban areas. The percentage of children living in urban areas has been steadily increasing over the past few decades, as you can see from these pie charts:
|Pie Charts taken from page 2 of the Executive Summary of the Report.|
Migration from the countryside was (and in some regions still is) the driving factor for urban growth but it is now estimated that children being born in cities and towns accounts for around 60% of urban growth. Most of this growth is occurring in low- and middle-income countries. One in three city dwellers are living in slum conditions.
Ignoring the Urban Poor?
Comparisons are normally drawn between indicators of children's wellbeing in rural and urban areas (such as the proportion of children reaching their fifth birthday, or going to school, or gaining access to improved sanitation, etc). This hides the problems faced by the urban poor, as the statistics for urban children take into account the wealth of communities elsewhere in the same city. The truth is that there are wide disparities within urban areas, with marginalised children being excluded from essential services and social protection.
City of Mianyang, Sichuan Province, China.
Picture from UNICEF's facebook page
The Rights of Children in Urban Settings
Of course children living in urban poverty have the same rights as children everywhere, but there are certain challenges which make it more difficult for their rights to be realised. Chapter two of the Report says that inadequate living conditions are among the most pervasive violations of children's rights. Evidence suggests that more children want for shelter and sanitation than are deprived of food.
Research from different countries has shown that living in a disadvantaged urban area increases the mortality rate of children under five. The Report states:
"Poor water supply and sanitation, the use of hazardous cooking fuels in badly ventilated spaces, overcrowding and the need to pay for health services – which effectively puts them out of reach for the poor – are among the major underlying causes of these under-five deaths.
The following issues were highlighted as violating children's rights, for example their rights to survival and development, to adequate health services, to an education, and so on:
From chapter two of the Report
Chapter three looks at particular challenges in urban areas. It has sections on migrant children; economic shocks - and impacts on youth employment and how unemployment levels can lead to civil unrest, usually in cities, where the greatest numbers of people are; violence and crime - including that driven by inequality and the sense of deprivation and urban gangs; and natural disasters, where the urban poor are often inadequately served and ill-equipped to prepare and recover from extreme events.
Children I met in Buenos Aires, Argentina - in traditional dress, playing music to get money.
Ways to Improve the Protection of Urban Children's Rights
The importance of collaboration between authorities and children's rights agencies is highlighted. Much emphasis is also put on the importance of child participation in urban planning and management. This may sound unusual, and is indeed not a common course of action. The Report gives examples where children have taken part in urban planning decisions, such as the mapping project in Rishi Aurobindo Colony, Kolkata, India, and also shows how children can participate in other aspects of the governance and development of their communities through the Child-Friendly Cities Initiative.
In addition to the above, a variety of programmes which are vital to improving the protection of urban children's rights are discussed. These include programmes which :
Uniting for Children in an Urban World
This is the title of the last chapter of the Report. It explores five key areas in which action is required to realise the rights of children living in urban areas. They form the basis of the recommendations given in the Report's Executive Summary: