Children should be focus of urban planning, says UNICEF

A new UNICEF report has found that millions of poor urban children are worse off than their rural peers. Poor transport links, insufficient access to parks and growing air pollution are negatively impacting their outcomes.

UNICEF released a report last Tuesday showing that millions of poor urban children are actually faring worse than their rural peers. These findings overturn the popular assumption that children in cities benefit from what is commonly known as the ‘urban advantage’: the idea that higher incomes, better infrastructure and proximity to services grant urban dwellers better lives.

Instead, UNICEF identified what it calls the ‘urban paradox’, which is when environmental and health hazards mean that many urban residents – including children – miss out and suffer more severe deprivations than their rural peers.

“For rural parents, at face-value, the reasons to migrate to cities seem obvious: better access to jobs, health care and education opportunities for their children,” Laurence Chandy, UNICEF Director of Data, Research and Policy, said in a statement. “But not all urban children are benefitting equally; we find evidence of millions of children in urban areas who fare worse than their rural peers.”

The report identifies 4.3 million poor urban children worldwide who are more likely to die before their fifth birthday than those living in rural areas, and said 13.4 million are less likely to complete primary school.

“Children should be a focus of urban planning, yet in many cities they are forgotten, with millions of children cut off from social services in urban slums and informal settlements,” Chandy said.

Up to 1 billion people are estimated to live in slums, hundreds of millions of whom are children, according to the UN children’s agency.

Patrin Watanatada of the Bernard van Leer Foundation, a child advocacy organization, welcomed the report. “Cities can be wonderful places to grow up, rich with opportunities – but they can also pose serious challenges for a child’s health development,” she told This Is Place, adding that poor transport links, insufficient access to health clinics and parks, as well as growing air pollution can all exacerbate life for urban children.

Image credit: UNICEF/Noorani

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