In Need For A National Urban Policy With Child-Centered lens
As per Census 2011, 31.16 % population lives in Indian cities. Children (0-18 years) account for 34% of the total urban population of which 52.7%) are boys and 47.3% are girls. Many of these boys and girls, who will be contributing to shaping the future of cities, are currently living in slums. Of the total urban households, 17.4% are slum households (Census 2011) and this number is forecast to rise over the coming years. The urban poverty level is about 13.7% in 2011-12 (Planning Commission). At present, the slums are reported in 63% of the 4,041 statutory towns.
Different research indicates that there is inequality in the coverage of basic services in urban India. These inequalities make it difficult for children esp. from deprived families to compete with same cohort living in non-slum households. Such children are facing basic survival challenges starting from their birth when some of them are being delivered by untrained birth attendants at home; followed by other basic development and protection issues. Girls and boys, of any background, in cities are facing many complex issues with respect to their physical, emotional and mental well-being. Children have to face not just a rise in crimes against them but also challenges such as unfriendly roads, lack of playing spaces, unsafe public places etc. Also, having no representation in interventions meant for them (or where decisions for them are mainly made by adults) makes things difficult for them and their parents to cope in this challenging and competitive environment.
The Indian government has launched various urban development schemes and missions to address some of the issues which urban children are facing in cities daily. The sch(emes and mission such as AMRUT, HRIDAY, NULM, PMAY–Urban, NUHM, GUTS, Swachh Bharat and Smart City Mission are designed to help boost the urban development and to contribute towards improving the quality of life for urban dwellers. It may also help address some of the specific challenges which children are facing in this rapidly urbanizing India.
The Government has already taken note of the Sustainable Development Goals commitments and has aligned its planning framework to the targets given under them. India is also signatory to the UNCRC and other global agendas which reflect the Governments intent to make life better and healthier for children.
While the intent of the government is in place, it must now focus on child- friendly urban planning through its policies. The proposed National Urban Policy (NUP) framework must focus on urban planning and design processes and their implementation in such a way that it will ensure child-friendly smart and resilient cities. This framework will also ensure children’s engagement during the policy implementation at the ground and should take into account their perspectives and views. This will allow children, who are disconnected at present, to understand the basics of urban planning and designing but also make them contribute effectively towards shaping child-friendly, smart and resilient cities for their predecessors. There are lots of examples where children have given effective ideas on traffic management to making of a mobile app to encourage cab sharing for the smooth functioning of cities in India.
Child-participation in urban planning and design process is not a new concept; there are cities that are engaging children not only in the planning but also in the budgeting exercises. In South Asia, Dhaka city authorities along with Bangladesh Institute of Planners are engaging with children towards child-sensitive urban planning; Bhubaneswar is the first city in India to focus on child-friendly city; In Latin America, several municipalities are engaging with children through their Mayor’s office for planning child-friendly infrastructure and services; similarly in Boston, the Mayor took the initiative of empowering youth (age 12 to 25) to be part of the civic affairs of city government through participatory budgeting. It became the first American city in which youth have been empowered to decide on a portion of their city’s capital budget. The above examples of children engagement in city planning processes will not only empower them but indicates they can affect change in their communities. These activities inculcate civil engagement, making them sensitive about their city and educate them about the democratic processes.
These children, who have been involved in these processes if groomed and raised in adherence to their rights, will bring sustainable growth and development, not only for their cities but for the entire country.
Thus, it is an opportune movement to have a NUP framework that should consider children as active agents of change and encourage their participation for city improvement and development processes.
(Authors: Manish Thakre and Manabendranath Ray are, respectively, Senior Manager and Urban Convener, Urban Strategy Initiative at Save the Children. Views expressed are personal.)