According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and UNICEF, children of any age or ability have the right to use, create, transform and develop their urban environments. Recognising the positive influence of children on urban planning, the Center for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS), IMPRI Impact, and Policy Research Institute together presented a talk on Inclusion of Children and Adolescents in City Planning and Governance as part of its Special Talk Series #LocalGovernance.
Mr Tikender Singh Panwar, Former Deputy Mayor, Shimla and Senior Visiting Fellow at IMPRI, began the conversation by stating that local governance does not refer to decentralisation alone, but also the democratisation of the processes in order to empower people. Skillful city planning comprises various elements such as ensuring the safety, security and nutrition of children.
Manish A Thakre, Head of Urban Programme and Policy, Save the Children, specified the importance of understanding the voices of the children in the urban context, especially during the pandemic.
The scale of urbanisation in India is ever-increasing and the nation has one of the largest urban systems in the world. Almost 39% of the total population comprises children and of that, 128.5 million children live in an urban setting. The escalating population in urban areas can be contributed to migration and natural growth. It is also pertinent to note the state of children living in urban slums where the dwelling units are not fit for human habitation. The lack of ventilation, light or sanitation facilities can be quite detrimental to the health of residents.
According to the Census, 8.1 million children live in slums and Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh house most slum dwellers in the country.
It has been observed that 0.11 million children under six years of age are homeless. Since homeless children are not officially recorded, they do not possess identity cards. As a result, they will not be able to avail social protection schemes.
Traffic and congestion in cities can expose children to various dangers. Reports state that transport-related injuries ranked fourth as a cause of death among children aged between five and 14 years in India in 2016. Many children lack access to playgrounds in their vicinity, due to which they lack physical activity. This situation has been exacerbated during the pandemic as children are required to be indoors.
There is also a sense of fear in society because of rising crimes against children. In 19 metropolitan cities, the number of crime cases reported against children rose from 19,081 in 2016 to 21,425 in 2019. Girls face a myriad of challenges because of inequitable access to health, education and transportation facilities. As per Save the Children’s 2018 report, girls perceived the highest sense of risk while travelling in public transport. Similarly, commuting to the local market and using narrow streets of their neighbourhood also makes them feel unsafe.
The URDPFI Guidelines state that an Anganwadi should be present for every housing area or a cluster of 5,000 people, but there are only seven out of 100 Anganwadi beneficiaries in the urban areas.
Many children miss out on receiving nutritional services and early childhood education.
Moreover, the presence of single-use neighbourhoods restricts the movement of people throughout the day and places children in a difficult position during natural calamities as they are likely to suffer due to their limited physical ability to cope. The lack of age and gender-disaggregated data on children living in slums and non-slum households hamper the effective planning of cities. Building the capacity of the stakeholders and including children in the planning process can be beneficial.
Thakre spoke about a child-friendly city that, according to the UNICEF, is a city or any local system of governance that is committed to fulfilling children’s rights. While planning a city, it is imperative to the views of children into account. He said:
As stakeholders, children should possess the right to influence decisions and fully participate in family, community and social life.
In order to completely include children in planning and governance, data segregated on the basis of age, gender and disability are of utmost importance. There is also a need to prioritise the most deprived and marginalised children so that no child is left behind in the process of developing cities. The basics of urban planning have to be inculcated in school curricula so that children are sensitised about their role in safe, clean and resilient cities.
Child-friendly governance mechanism should be in such a manner that the action plan is developed together with children. The presence of grievance mechanisms for children should be amplified amongst communities. The complaints should be reviewed from time to time and used to inform future planning.
An informal organisation of meetings of children, mothers, local ward councillors and municipal officials was done by Urban Programme and Policy, Save the Children, to engage stakeholders in conversations about city planning. The programme has also developed the concept of Child Parliament where children are made to play the role of various Cabinet Ministers and discuss important issues. Elected representatives also engage with children and address their potential in city planning.
Many people expect equal opportunities but usually, the voices of children are missing. Adults should give children the space to take part in programmes where their opinions are considered and ideas valued.
Any planning process should consist of engagement with the public.
Taking questions from the audience, Thakre informed the panel that comprehensive data is significant for planning at the local level. Initiatives have to be scaled up with the support of municipalities in order to understand the local situation and listen to the views of the public.
Perceiving the current dynamics with the help of children will enable the creation of a better future.
Tikender Singh affirmed that unanswered questions in urban development were taken up in this session. By building relevant arguments, people may be able to reclaim their spaces and build secure networks. At the same time, he stressed that bringing children into the ambit of planning can be pivotal. Thakre thanked the organisers for conducting the talk at an appropriate time. Finally, Arjun Kumar introduced Generation Alpha Data Centre to fill the gaps in data.
Acknowledgement: Ritheka Sundar is a Research intern at IMPRI.
Youtube Video: Inclusion of Children and Adolescents in City Planning and Governance
Tikender Singh Panwar, Simi Mehta, Ritika Gupta