In a new report, UNICEF urges governments to put children at the heart of urban planning, as most children will live in such areas in future. Hundreds of millions of children live in urban slums, often excluded from vital services, such as clean water and education, and it is time for policy makers to take action, the organisation warns.
According to the State of the World’s Children 2012 report, entitled “Children in an Urban World”, children in urban cities enjoy the advantage of urban schools, clinics and more playgrounds, but are also prone to alarming disparities in health and education levels. With an increasing migration influx from rural to urban areas, many cities have not been able to keep up with the increased demand for infrastructure and basic services, the report highlights.
"When many of us think of the world's poorest children, the image that comes readily to mind is that of a child going hungry in a remote rural community in sub-Saharan Africa," said Anthony Lake, UNICEF executive director. “But millions of children in cities and towns all over the world are also at risk of being left behind. Excluding these children in slums not only robs them of the chance to reach their full potential; it robs their societies of the economic benefits of having a well-educated, healthy urban population”, he warned.
The shortage of adequate data on the disparities among children in urban areas was highlighting the neglect of these issues by many policy makers, the report claims. According to UNICEF, many statistics used for urban planning do not distinguish between rich and poor city dwellers and were thus obscuring statistical averages that overlook the realities faced by many children living in slums. In reality, poor families have often been faced with higher costs for water and other services, in comparison to rich families, due to their dependence on private vendors, Unicef believes.
Recommendations include the reduction of barriers to public services and adequate documentation. “Ensuring that all children are registered and documented must be a top priority because, however ardent the efforts to promote equity, it is likely to elude children who lack official documents”, the report reads. The report also highlights the need for greater recognition of community-based efforts to tackle urban poverty, citing examples of successful projects, such as in Nairobi, Kenya, where adolescents mapped their slum community to provide information to urban planners.
“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,” Lake concluded.
Read the full report here: UNICEF (pdf)