Urbanization leaves hundreds of millions of children in cities and towns excluded from vital services, UNICEF warns in The State of the World’s Children 2012: Children in an Urban World.
Greater urbanization is inevitable. 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. Already 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.
“When we think of poverty, the image that traditionally comes to mind is that of a child in a rural village,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “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.”
“Excluding these children in slums not only robs them of the chance to reach their full potential; it robs their societies of the economic benefits of having a well-educated, healthy urban population,” Lake added.
Cities offer many children the advantages of urban schools, clinics and playgrounds, yet the same cities the world over are also the settings for some of the greatest disparities in children’s health, education and opportunities.
Infrastructure and services are not keeping up with urban growth in many regions and children’s basic needs are not being met. Families living in poverty often pay more for substandard services. Water, for instance, can cost 50 times more in poor neighbourhoods where residents have to buy it from private vendors than it costs in wealthier neighbourhoods where households are connected directly to water mains.
The deprivations endured by children in poor urban communities are often obscured by broad statistical averages that lump together all city dwellers – rich and poor alike. When averages such as these are used in making urban policy and allocating resources, the needs of the poorest can be overlooked.
“Children who live in the poorest urban communities in the Philippines experience multiple deprivations. They lack decent housing, are exposed to dangers from disasters, have limited access to clean water and are more prone to neglect, abuse and exploitation. Each excluded child represents a missed opportunity at achieving a stable and productive society,” Dr. Abdul Alim, UNICEF Representative a.i., says.