United Arab Emirates
Sharjah is the third largest emirate of the United Arab Emirates, with a population of over 1.4 million (2015).
Under the directives of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, the emirate has striven for over 40 years to build a city where children and young adults live in a secure environment, enjoy their rights, and have access to basic services as well as platforms where their voices can be heard.
These efforts culminated in February 2017, when the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced the emirate a candidate city, the first in the region, for its Child-Friendly Cities Initiative. Since that date, Sharjah has made steadfast efforts to fulfil the legal, institutional, budgetary and planning measures needed to meet the conditions required to become a child-friendly city (CFC).
Sharjah reached its objective: in May 2018, His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan Al Qasimi received this prestigious accolade from UNICEF, making it the first city in the Middle East to become a CFC, and the first in the world to obtain the title after implementing the new guidelines and criteria launched by UNICEF in 2018.
Sharjah’s CFC project is implemented by the Sharjah Child-Friendly Office, a dedicated government entity. To preserve the title, the emirate is executing a four-year action plan, overseen by the Sharjah Child-Friendly Office. The action plan essentially comprises the following:
- All certified child-friendly institutions in Sharjah will adhere to the five goals set by UNICEF’s Child-Friendly Cities Initiative designed to uphold and protect children’s identity, roles and rights within their communities.
- These institutions will ensure that children’s needs and voices are prioritized by legislative, policymaking and financial institutions.
- Specific focus will be placed on fulfilling children’s aspirations of safety, providing a nurturing environment, and ensuring the enjoyment of family and community life.
To ensure the sustainability of the project’s goals, particularly in schools where children spend most of their time studying, playing, engaging in sports and art activities, and building new friendships, Sharjah launched the Child-Friendly Schools initiative in collaboration with UNICEF and a number of local education authorities.
The initiative’s purpose is to progressively move schools and education systems in Sharjah towards quality global standards, addressing all elements that influence the well-being and rights of a child as a prime beneficiary of the teaching process.
A 40-year journey
Sharjah’s care for children and youth started in the early 1950s, when the first scout troop in the UAE was established. In the 1970s, the UAE’s first female guiding movement was established, now known as the ‘Sharjah Girl Guides’.
In 1985, His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah established the first children’s library, which evolved into children’s centres, targeting those aged 6–12 years. Today, 14 fully operational children’s centres are spread throughout the cities and suburbs of the emirate.
The Sharjah Children’s Parliament was inaugurated in 1997 and is still held today under the name ‘Sharjah Children’s Consultative Council’. It is a parliamentary council formed through free elections, with every session held for two consecutive years. Sharjah was the first to implement such a project in the Gulf region and the Middle East.
Youth Centres were launched in 2003 for boys aged 13–18 years with the aim of providing a suitable and safe environment for them to practise their hobbies and develop their talents. Dedicated youth centres were also launched for girls aged 13–18 years in 2004, named ‘Sajaya Young Ladies of Sharjah’, to develop their talents in various creative spaces.
For young boys and girls, a dedicated mock parliamentary body called the ‘Sharjah Youth Consultative Council’ was established. It is similar to the Children’s Parliament and consists of 80 members, divided equally between girls and boys, selected through free elections before the start of each session, which is held for two years. During sessions at least four sittings are held, in addition to emergency meetings, sub-meetings and seminars.
In addition to these innovative projects and dedicated children and youth organizations, Sharjah has long been known as a family-friendly emirate for its entertaining destinations that are suitable for all members of the family, and its smoke- and alcohol-free environment.
© Sharjah Girl Guides