Today, half of humanity lives in cities and it is forecasted that within two decades the percentage of urban dwellers will reach 60% of the world’s population. Approximately half of the world’s children live in urban areas, mostly in low and middle-income nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It is commonly thought that urban children enjoy better living conditions than their peers in the countryside, since cities provide enhanced income opportunities and offer a wide range of services, such as health care, education, sanitation and drainage systems. At the same time, it is widely understood that overall statistics for cities often hide disparities and conditions of marginalization and poverty experienced by a large portion of children living in slums and poor neighbourhoods.
For many children living in cities worldwide the health risks are very high. Levels of pollution and contamination combined with inadequate drainage and sanitation systems exacerbate the incidence of diarrhoea and related illnesses, as well as of respiratory diseases, which are common causes of child death. On the other hand, health service coverage for poor children is often insufficient to respond to demand. Other types of buffers, like secure housing, caregiving facilities and accessibility of education opportunities, leave many gaps in low-income urban settlements. Traffic, noise, the risk of injuries and pollution do not enable children to experience stimulating outdoors environments. In some areas, permeating crime and violence constitute a major threat to children’s safety and freedom. Furthermore, to help their families, children commonly end up working on the streets being exposed to dangers and possibly to exploitation.
In industrialised countries, there is better and generally more equitable coverage of health, care and education services. However, crime, traffic and limited spaces are a threat to children’s safety and freedom to play and interact. A tendency to overprotect children has made its way in most rich societies and often little room is left for children to learn about their surroundings and establish autonomy and independence, which are ingredients of healthy development.
All these needs and gaps may be addressed through legal reforms, policies and programmes that prioritise children and involve them in decision making processes. A local system of governance engaged in the process of becoming a child friendly city strives to ensure the implementation of children’s rights and the fulfilment of children’s needs. In a CFC all children are taken into consideration through collection of disaggregated data and the most vulnerable ones are reached through relevant interventions which include policy and legal changes, budget allocations and initiatives to enhance service delivery. In a CFC children’s participation is a cross-cutting element.
- UNICEF (2002) Poverty and Exclusion Among Urban Children, Innocenti Digest No.10
- UN Habitat (2008) State of the World’s Cities 2008/2009 – Harmonious Cities