I had the honour of hosting the launch of UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2012 report. This was a global initiative that took place at the same time and same day in other key cities. This year’s report focused on Children in an Urban World. It was a real honour because it had two of the subjects closest to my heart – children and urbanization. Urban planning was my field before I got into television by accident.
In a few years, the report says, the majority of children will grow up in towns or cities rather than in rural areas. Children born in cities already account for 60 per cent of the increase in urban population. The Philippines is an urban society with half the population or 45 million people living in cities. Of Metro Manila’s 11 million people, 1.7 million children live in informal settlements. You may download the full report here.
The past two years, my work with UNICEF involved fundraising and advocating maternal health and breastfeeding. It took me to many rural areas – from Rizal, Laguna, Maguindanao and like this photo of a mother nursing her child in Sarangani. Yes, there are millions of children who need help in rural areas. These are the common stories we read about in rural areas – lack of health services, schools, transportation, nutrition and other basic resources. The government and other organizations continue to work towards delivering services to the rural poor. UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake says, “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.”
If you’ve been reading Daphne.ph for sometime you know that I always beg for open spaces and public parks in the city. Throw in public art and activities for children the way Bonifacio has it all figured out. Now my big concern is which summer activities my daughters will do. Where do they do theatre, ballet, art, swimming, skating – Makati, Alabang, Ortigas? We have big problems.
This is what city life means for us. We have access to dynamic activities – playgrounds, movies, theatres, malls, sports clubs, schools. But this isn’t the case for half of the children who live in urban areas. The same city we live in is also the setting for some of the greatest disparities in children’s health, education and opportunities. I don’t have to say this because we already know that. Just look outside your car window the next time you’re stuck in traffic.
So what exactly does the report tell us? The report calls for a new approach to urban challenges. Policy-makers, real estate developers, architects, citizens all should take a part in reaching the most deprived and vulnerable children and families. Children should be at the heart of urban development, with urban policies prioritizing the needs of the most disadvantaged children in cities. Example, poor families pay more for their water – up to 50 times more – because they have to buy it from private vendors/water trucks, while rich families have direct connections to water mains.
I really encourage you to download the report and read/browse through it. We can all learn from it and try to understand the needs of poor children in cities.
For many of us urbanization is exciting and sexy. I love talking about architecture and how cities change, my need for artsy parks. But we, myself included, are all guilty of trying to brush away the problems of the urban poor, the squatters and the homeless we sometimes treat as invisible. Infrastructure and services are not keeping up with urban growth in many regions and children’s basic needs are not being met.
Do me a favour today – especially if you are in Metro Manila. I lifted this from the report. Look around. Do all children in your neighbourhood have the services they need? If not, why not? Does your city promote and safeguard the rights of children?
Get involved in local initiatives to improve neighbourhoods such as clean up schemes, city gardens and farms, or building renovation. Get involved in wider initiatives to tackle the barriers to child rights, such as poverty and discrimination, and to give local communities – particularly children and adolescents – a chance to influence the development of your city.
Join the debate: Listen to children and adolescents. Their views on your city may be surprising, but could help to create better cities for all. Add your voice to those working to improve the well-being of children in your city. If there is no debate, start one. Ask questions.