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The Voice of Children in Cities Must Be Heard For the Sake of Our Future

Children at an assembly on sustainable development in cities use photography to get their messages across

Children at an assembly on sustainable development in cities use photography to get their messages across.

The day is fast coming when the majority of the world's children will grow up in cities. This is a potentially scary thought: will they have access to green space, will they hear birdsong? Will they know where their food comes from? Will they get the benefit of playing amongst nature and climbing trees freely?

More importantly, will their living conditions be satisfactory? Will they have to live on the streets and be forced into child labour? Will their important voices be heard?

These questions urgently need answers that need to be built into planning decisions being made now, especially in developing countries where children average 37% of the population, rising to a staggering 49% in the least-developed areas, according to UNICEF's State of the World's Children 2012 report.

A new report from World Vision, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to reducing the vulnerability of children, called Just Cities for Children: Voices from Urban Slums highlights its experience in supporting children to express their ideas for a better city to key decision makers on a global platform.

It proposes the following Guiding Principles for Child Participation:

1. Participation is a right and works to fulfil other rights.

2. Participation is ethical and safe.

3. Participation is meaningful and sustainable.

4. Participation strengthens familial, community and societal relationships.

5. Participation is a process and method across different sectors.

World Vision wants to mainstream the participation of children into urban programmes. The paper analyses the ways in which children are able to contribute to safe, healthy, resilient and prosperous cities by influencing urban policies to better reflect the diverse needs of children. It also talks about children's abilities to participate, and how this engagement takes into account their evolving capacities and vulnerabilities.

Over 1 billion children, almost half of those in the world today, already live in cities and urban areas.

Since 2008, World Vision's Urban Centre of Expertise for Urban Programming (Urban CoE) has been developing and testing approaches to address child well-being in cities, through six pilot projects, located in Bolivia, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Lebanon and South Africa.

The four aspects of making cities work for childrenThis experience has led to the development of the 'Cities for Children' (CFC) framework. This is a model for supporting the well-being of children in urban areas, that highlights four domains of change required to ensure sustainable and just cities necessary for children to thrive:

  • healthy cities, 
  • prosperous cities, 
  • safer cities, and 
  • resilient cities.

The experience gained has led to the certainty that the essential requirement for the success of such an aspiration is the participation of the most vulnerable children and communities in the process. They must not be excluded.

In April 2013, the Urban CoE signed a global memorandum of understanding with UN-Habitat (the United Nations entity responsible for leading programmes on informal settlements), that established a global partnership.

World Vision's role is to provide the child well-being lens to the World Urban Campaign and other global advocacy processes and initiatives, such as the Post-2015 and Habitat III agendas.

Poster of childrens assembly conclusionsThis led to the first Children's Assembly held in April this year on the opening day of the World Urban Forum in Medellin, Colombia. 200+ children from diverse neighbourhoods of Colombia, Bolivia, El Salvador and idealist took part. Click on the image on the right for the conclusions.

I can think of nothing better for me to do now than to shut up and let children from these assemblies speak for themselves. The following are quotations from children participating in workshops taken from the report:

One child, Walter from Colombia, said:

"This is the city that we imagine; it can exist for good. Where we can be quiet, in peace. With more green areas and children walk, play and enjoy the city. I imagine a city in the future, where children play without violence and pollution."

Childrens assembly in Medellin

Ballentina, Colombia:

"What I don"t like about our city is that there is too much violence and delinquency; the government is not the best. They say this is an innovative city but it"s not so. If you go into other suburbs you can see it isn"t like this."

An unnamed child participant:

"We would like to dream of a city where going out to the streets would not be a hazard; a city of neighbourhoods with no invisible borders, where security is not only in the hands of the police but that it will be constructed by all of us as citizens."

Vivilashan, Nairobi:

"The government should provide more jobs for our parents, so that we don"t have to become child labourers, and are allowed to go to school."

Children using model of city to identify vulnerable areas

Dio, Surabaya:

"A child-friendly city is where a city is able to provide the children rights and protection, then also there is no violation toward the children."

Cecilia, La Paz:

"We need to close the gaps. Education and health for all and that the cities do not develop themselves, but that we can develop them."

Rebecca, Beirut:

"I need to live in a city where all neighbourhoods and streets are safe and secure, well-lit, and people watch over security."

Rina, member of Siliguri children's club:

"Following the formation of the children"s club, we were given training on how to speak up. Our fear of speaking disappeared. Now, we can participate in meetings everywhere."

Carolina, Colombia:

"We are the present; we will be here tomorrow and adults need to listen to us."

This is very important work. As a writer for children myself – as well as working on this website – I heartily agree with these sentiments. Some of my work is about trying to increase environmental awareness among children. I work with the Woodcraft Folk, which, despite its name, has plenty of urban members, and is part of the International Falcon Movement, both of which are about increasing child participation in decision-making and sustainable development.

The IFM is a network of groups in many countries. It has member organisations all over the world and is strongest in Europe and South America. Many of its member organisations work with children and young people of all ages through activities, groups and camping.

Wales' Well-being of Future Generations Bill, unique in the world, is also about letting the voices of children be heard for the sake of the country's future and sustainable deevlopment.