How child friendly cities are contributing to children’s development and wellbeing

Posted on Posted in Children's Rights

Child friendly urban planning is an emerging field. It advocates a coherent and systematic approach to planning and designing cities that realizes children’s rights and improves children’s development and well-being (Cities Alive, 2017). The concept of child friendly cities offers the chance to design a city tailored-made for all the citizens which is equal and inclusive, and which promotes the participation and the sustainability.

The definition of child friendly cities (CFC)

UNICEF defines a child friendly city as “a local system of good governance committed to fulfilling children’s rights. It is a city where the voices, needs, priorities and rights of children are an integral part of public policies, programmes and decisions. It is, as a result, a city that is fit for all” (New Zealand Committee for UNICEF, Child Friendly Cities background paper, 2013). 

According to UNICEF, child friendly cities can be defined as cities in which children can:

  • Influence decisions about their city 
  • Express their opinion on the city they want 
  • Participate in family, community and social life 
  • Receive basic services such as health care, education and shelter 
  • Drink safe water and have access to proper sanitation 
  • Be protected from exploitation, violence and abuse 
  • Walk safely in the streets on their own 
  • Meet friends and play 
  • Have green spaces for plants and animals 
  • Live in an unpolluted environment 
  • Participate in cultural and social events 
  • Be an equal citizen of their city with access to every service, regardless of ethnic origin, religion, income, gender or disability.

The development of child friendly cities is an important tool trough which States can be supported to fulfil their obligations to uphold children’s rights. For instance, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) , and in particular, some of the principles enshrined in it, are the guiding instrument to develop child friendly cities:

– Article 2: Non-discrimination. The rights of all children are respected, without discrimination based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.

– Article 3.1: Best interests of the child. The best interests of children are the primary consideration in decisions which may affect them.

– Article 6: The inherent right to life, survival and development. Children have the right to life, and, in this sense, the government is committed to ensuring the maximum extent possible, their right to survival and healthy development.

– Article 12: Respect for the views of the child. Children have the right to voice their opinions and have these be taken into account in decisions affecting them.

Moreover, the guiding principles also include some additional principles associated with good governance, such as equity and inclusion, accountability and transparency, public participation and adaptability, and sustainability which are all linked to the Convention on the Rights of the Child

Why is CRC important for child friendly cities? 

The Convention is an international agreement between States, which obliges States to implement children’s rights at every governance level (CFC’s website). To reach this goal, it is important to involve all the actors involved in children’s lives, starting from the central government to the single individuals. 

The main duty-bearers in relation to children’s rights are governments. In legal terms, States that have ratified human rights treaties have a ‘duty’ to uphold the articles of the Convention. Nevertheless, the government is not the only body entitled to implement the Convention, but so are all the public actors (such as police officers, lawyers, teachers and social workers) who enter in contact with a child and who have the duty to respect and fulfil the Convention of the Rights of the Child.

Even though treaties are ratified by national governments, local and regional governments and administrations are equally bound by the Convention and are therefore also duty-bearers (UNICEF Child Friendly Cities and Communities Initiative, 2017). 

On the other hand, even though the main rights-holders are all children under the age of 18, their parents are also rights-holders. Moreover, they are entitled to assistance from the State in raising children and they are obliged to provide their children with advice and guidance.

Child friendly cities may offer a wide range of services which can support children in their development and well-being: at home, in school, in recreation and sports, in clinics and hospitals, in care homes, in the courts and in the justice system. Everyone, and most of all children, should be encouraged to help create environments for the implementation of children’s rights.

How are child friendly cities related to children’s rights?

As children’s capacities evolve gradually during childhood, caregivers and other adults are vital to ensure children’s well-being and development. Historically, children have been considered as ‘objects’ rather than ‘subjects’, and the perception of them has always been characterized by the lack of respect for their dignity, participation and evolving capacities. 

During the time, since the Convention came into force in 1990, it has transformed attitudes towards children and childhood, changing the way children are viewed and treated from a charity-based to a rights-based approach, and recognizing children as agents entitled to be actively involved in decisions that affect their lives (UNICEF Child Friendly Cities and Communities Initiative, 2017).

The idea behind child friendly cities is to promote and put in practice the concept of respect for the dignity of the child as a rights-bearing person and to close the gap between the ‘governors’ and the ‘governed’, especially children(UNICEF Child Friendly Cities and Communities Initiative, 2017).

How are the Sustainable Development Goals connected to CFCI? 

Another important guiding source to develop child friendly cities is offered by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Unlike the Millennium Development Goals that applied only to low- and middle-income countries, the SDGs apply to all countries in the world. The SDGs provide a good opportunity and renewed impetus for States to fulfil their legal obligations under the Convention of the Rights of the Child given the fact that all of the SDGs and their targets touch on the lives of children in some way(UNICEF Child Friendly Cities and Communities Initiative, 2017).

“Children are a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people.”

– Enrique Peñalosa, Mayor of Bogotá

Child friendly cities initiatives (CFCI) in the world 

Building child friendly cities is a complex process which cannot follow a “one size fits all” model. The peculiarities of every single context are different, and so are the people who live in those contexts. This is the reason why it is difficult to identify a common path to design child friendly cities, but it is possible to identify some common patterns of them.

The building process of child friendly cities can follow two directions: from the top down – with a formal resolution adopted by the Mayor or the national or regional or local institution – or bottom up – from a group of stakeholders (children or adults) which promote an initiative to claim and promote their views and rights (Building Child Friendly Cities, 2004). Nevertheless, the two approaches can be combined together. 

Among all the possible initiatives to promote child friendly cities in the world there are child friendly hospitals and schools; environmental projects to guarantee children safe water and hygiene (Building Child Friendly Cities, 2004),“city council for kids” where young representatives meet the mayor, debate and take their findings back to school (Laker, 2018), street paintings and planters to mark a route between a kindergarten, school and park, to reduce traffic speeds and create new play space (Laker, 2018). All the initiatives which can support children’s rights and voices are more than welcomed and the creativity is a great ally in expanding the range of possible actions. 

Child friendly cities as a sign of a shift in perspective

Child friendly cities can be seen as an important tool to shift the perception from the present to the future. 

Tim Gill, the author of “No Fear: Growing Up in a Risk Averse Society”, says a child friendly city is one that allows “everyday freedoms”, so a child can spread their wings as they grow. The author highlights the limits of building nice playgrounds and public spaces for children, without tackling the issue from a broader point of view.

According to him, society’s mistake is that the planning systems are geared around cars, house building and the economy – rather than the environment, health and quality of life, and this is because the decision-makers are short-termist politicians who don’t need to look beyond the next two or three years (Laker, 2018). 

The raising issue of child friendly cities reflects the growing importance of shifting from a short-term perspective to a long-term perspective by involving all the citizens to express their view in shaping the kind of city they imagine. In this context, children also play a significant role: they express the needs of a specific category of citizens who are not politically represented, and they contribute to shape the city according to their needs and views. This is why it is important to take their voices into account, according to their ways of expressing, resources and perceptions. 

In this sense, Humanium is working continuously to raise awareness of the importance of children’s access to a healthy urban environment. If you would like to join us in ensuring a better future for children in cities around the world, consider making a donation, engaging in sponsorship, or even becoming a volunteer

Written by Arianna Braga


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