Towards Child Friendly Cities

Address by Mr. Kul C. Gautam
Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
At the IVth International Forum
Florence, 15 November 2000

Mr. Chairman,

Honourable Ministers,

Distinguished Mayors and Colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour to be here in this historic Palazzo Vecchio, and to have been invited to speak at this important Forum. Being here at the beautiful Sala Cinqueciento brings back a nostalgic memory for me. Six years ago in ….199…I was here in this very hall attending the ….anniversary of Dante Alleghiri organized by the Dante Society of Florence. My father-in-law was here too, and he was honoured on that occasion for translating The Divine Comedy into my native language: Nepali. A copy of this great epic in Nepali is on display a few blocks from here, at the casa di Dante Alleghiri. How wonderful then, to be back here again in another beautiful November day to discuss a subject that I suspect Dante Alleghiri would have found fitting.

The title of this forum, “The City: A Right for Children” could not have been more appropriately named, and there could not be a better approach than putting children’s best interests and rights at the forefront of urban vision-setting and planning.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We at UNICEF acknowledge the great value of the Child-Friendly Cities initiative.  Children in urban areas – as children everywhere – have the right to grow up in an environment that promotes their health, peace and dignity.  Because of the changing nature of the world economy, the prospects for a high quality of life in any city and in any country will depend-as never before-on having a population that is adaptable, resilient and ready to learn throughout life.

The foundation for this is laid very early in life.  Nothing will be more important for the long-term prosperity and the well-being of our societies than investment and protection of the rights of young children.

Parents and families have the primary responsibility for the care of their children.  But all of society must work together to ensure that our children develop the abilities to succeed.

I doubt that anyone would argue with the soundness of this approach.  Yet its implementation is challenged by a number of threats, many of which are concentrated and often more extreme in urban areas.  Today, we live in the context of fast growing urbanisation; with half of the world population living in cities.  Urban populations increasingly bear a greater burden of poverty. Only 12 years ago, in 1988, one quarter of the world’s “absolute poor” lived in urban areas, now in the year 2000 it is estimated that almost half do so.

Other challenges include:

By 2025, 6 out of 10 children in developing countries will live in cities and half of them will be poor;

Children are exposed to multiple risks in cities: unclean water, air pollution, lack of access to sanitation and waste collection are among major environmental threats;

Lack of affordable basic services including access to primary health care, nutrition and basic education is the daily lot of children in poor slums and shanty-towns, especially in developing countries;

There are special forms of deprivation and neglect affecting urban children, for example, “street children” and specific forms of exploitative child labour in urban economic sectors;

Cities are often where child prostitution and trafficking thrives;

Urban societies are often characterised by less secure family and community support systems.

Here are some country-specific examples which are fairly representative of situations in many developing countries:

Urban dwellers in India are already five times more likely to develop diabetes than their rural relatives;

A study in Zambia concluded that between 1991 and 1994, the number of street children doubled to 70,000, and in every country in southern Africa, the estimated number of children who work on the streets is rising rapidly;

In Bangladesh, 46% of children are malnourished in urban areas overall, but in slum areas, the number of malnourished children rises to an alarming 73%.  Similarly, infant mortality in urban slum areas is more than double compared with other areas (138 against 63 per thousand live births) and considerably higher than in the countryside (103 per thousand live births).

This situation is aggravated by the fact that official data regularly excludes the urban poor, or is often-times based on misleading city-wide averages.  This results in inadequate services for those populations including marginalised children and women who are often the ones in greatest need.

Children and women’s issues are often not integrated in the planning and policy making of their cities. They are usually denied representation in local government bodies to address their needs.

Settlements where many poor children and their families live are commonly considered illegal by the local authorities. They are often excluded from the official development plans and their communities do not receive any support for the development of basic infrastructure. This causes a lot of insecurity and halts the shaping of strong, cohesive communities.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

These situations clearly present daunting challenges for those of us who are dedicated to the development of child-friendly cities, and this is why your initiative is so very important.

Let us remember that while there maybe illegal settlements, from a child rights perspective, there are no illegal children. Every child has a right to survival and development in dignity – and all of us have a duty to help protect and promote child rights.

For there to be steady, concrete achievement of goals and standards for children as set by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, much work needs to be done in partnership and co-ordination:

Urban planning need to include all populations and communities, especially those who have for too long been marginalised.  And beyond just counting people, people must count-and their views also taken into account;

Sectoral programmes must be adapted to children’s needs and to local situations and culture;

Implementation of programmes must be co-ordinated at the local level; municipalities, local authorities and communities can work together to adapt interventions for children and monitor implementation;

There needs to be participation of communities and children to the fullest extent possible.

In addition to promoting partnership within urban areas, the sharing of knowledge and experience among cities, across continents, can enrich innovative strategies and accelerate advances.  UNICEF is committed to working with local administrations and communities to facilitate this exchange, so that the achievement of common global goals and universal rights of children may by reached.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Please allow me at this point to pay tribute to all your efforts and initiatives promoting a child-centred, child-friendly approach to the development of the urban environment. These include:

Sustained follow-up to Habitat II in the form of implementation of the Child Friendly Cities Initiative, featuring:

1. The strengthening of partnerships for convergent action for urban poor children and communities, and,

2. The development of child-centred municipal plans of action based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, incorporating elements from both Agenda 21 and the Habitat Agenda at sub-national levels;

Follow-up to the Mayors as Defenders of Children initiative, launched in 1992 by UNICEF in Dakar, Senegal.  The successive global meetings of Mayors Defenders of Children have encouraged municipal authorities, along with other actors, to orient urban interventions toward CRC goals and catalysed action at the local, regional and national levels, supporting the decentralisation process underway in many countries;

And very specially, the Annual Forum of representatives from Italian cities and their international partners from such diverse cities as Addis Abeba, Jericho, and Seville, is a wonderful occasion to share experiences, lessons learned and best practices on how to reach the urban child in a fast urbanising world;

I would like to pay a very special tribute and thanks to our hosts and partners in Italy, including the Government, the Italian Committee for UNICEF, Italian municipal leaders and citizens, for continuing to provide substantial support to the implementation of the Child-Friendly Cities Initiative.

The establishment of a Child-Friendly Cities Secretariat at the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre in Florence with: UNCHS/Habitat, the Italian Committee for UNICEF, and the Istituto degli Innocenti with the very generous support of one billion lira from Italian Foreign Co-operation will greatly strengthen efforts and capacity to undertake in-depth research, analysis, and information management.

I invite you to make full use of this Secretariat. We are working hard to ensure that the Secretariat will provide tested methodologies and technical tools to make them more widely available to Mayors, local governments, administrations and practitioners as they support programming for women and children.  The Secretariat will also play an important role in promoting the exchange of experiences, networking, and developing a pool of experts ranging from academic resource people to urban planners and practitioners. We have an interactive website and I invite you to visit it often as your child-friendly electronic home in cybercity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the dawn of this new century, we stand today at the most opportune moment for attaining the lofty goals set at the historic World Summit for Children in 1990.  Next year in September 2001 there will be a Special Session on Children at the United Nations General assembly. That will help craft a new agenda with a set of goals and strategies for promoting child development and protection in the coming decades. That agenda must, and will contain our hopes and aspirations for child-friendly cities. And I personally hope to take the ideas emanating from this Forum to the crafting of that agenda of the Special Session on Children next year.

The partnerships you have fostered and strengthened among civil society organisations, the private sector and the media, international and national agencies, central government and local authorities, as well as the child-rights based approach you have adopted, provide a inspiring model for the launching of a powerful global movement for children in the 21st century.

Children must be both at the centre of that approach and by your side as partners.  Young people are the leaders of tomorrow.  They have energy, ideas and resourcefulness, and they want to contribute to building their cities and countries in the 21st century.  They deserve more and earlier opportunities to work with you.  Please give them that chance, for their future, and ours.

Thank you.