This post is by guest blogger James Elder of UNICEF.
This week UNICEF launched its flagship report, ‘The State of the World’s Children 2012: Children in an Urban World’ in Mexico City, warning that rapid urbanization is leaving millions of disadvantaged children behind.
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. When we think of poverty, the image that traditionally comes to mind is that of a child in a rural village. But today, an increasing number of children living in slums and shantytowns are among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in the world, deprived of the most basic services and denied the right to thrive.
Children born in cities already account for 60 per cent of the increase in urban population. 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. They can be hotbeds of violence, abuse and horrid living conditions.
Families living in poverty often pay more for substandard services. Water, for instance, can cost 50 times more in poor neighbourhoods where residents have to buy it from private vendors than it costs in wealthier neighbourhoods where households are connected directly to water mains. 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 are too often overlooked.
To make cities fit for children a focus on equity is crucial – one in which priority is given to the most disadvantaged children wherever they live. Governments need 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. Ensuring that all children are registered and documented must also be a top priority. Saying ‘children are our future’ is overused, but it’s also accurate, and a walk around any urban slum offers a fairly dark view of years to come, if governments don’t do more, now.
For more on child well-being, see Wikichild.