28 February 2012 Hundreds of millions of children in cities across the world are growing up in poverty and enduring deprivation, according to a report unveiled today by the United Nations, spotlighting social exclusion and calling for measures to give the youngsters access to basic services and opportunities for a better future.
‘The State of the World’s Children 2012’ report released by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), highlights the hardship that many children living in urban areas go through, which are in many cases concealed by statistical averages in which the poverty of some is obscured by the relative wealth of others.
“[Children’s] situations and needs are often represented by aggregate figures that show urban children to be better off than their rural counterparts, obscuring the disparities that exist among the children of cities,” says Anthony Lake, the UNICEF Executive Director, in the report’s foreword.
The document stresses that despite growing up in close proximity to modern facilities and basic services, many children in urban areas lack access to electricity, clean water and education. They are also at high risk of contracting diseases due to unsanitary conditions and suffering from malnutrition.
The report also emphasizes that they children are at high risk of exploitation and trafficking, as well as becoming victims of violence.
Presently, more than a billion children live in cities and towns. While many of these children enjoy access to basic services, a significant number face numerous challenges that impede their full development.
According to UNICEF, one in three city dwellers lives in slums, while in Africa the proportion increases to six in ten.
“Overcrowding and unsanitary conditions facilitate transmission of disease – notably pneumonia and diarrhea, the two leading killers of children under the age of five worldwide,” says the report. “Outbreaks of measles, tuberculosis and other vaccine-preventable diseases are also more frequent in these areas, where population density is high and immunization levels are low.”
While global vaccine coverage is improving, the report warns that it remains low in slums and informal settlements, increasing the population’s vulnerability.
The report also states that children who live in slums face hunger and malnutrition. Poor nutrition is responsible for more than a third of deaths globally for children under the age of five.
“Even the apparently well fed – those who receive sufficient calories to fuel their daily activities – can suffer the ‘hidden hunger’ of micronutrient malnutrition,” the report warns. In addition to poor health, the report points out that children living in slums are the least likely to attend school.
“Especially in slums, where public education options are scarce, families face a choice between paying for their children to attend overcrowded private schools of poor quality or withdrawing their children from school altogether.
“Even when schooling is free, ancillary expenses – uniforms, classroom supplies or exam fees, for example – are often high enough to prevent children from attending school.”
Without education, many children go on to work in the streets, with many joining criminal gangs which offer the promise of financial rewards and a sense of belonging, the report states.
It provides a set of recommendations to improve the conditions of children living in cities, which include improving the understanding of the scale and nature of poverty that affects children in cities, and using the knowledge to remove barriers to their social inclusion.
The report also underscores the importance of making children’s needs a priority in city planning and infrastructure development, and of establishing partnerships between the poor and government authorities at all levels.
“We must do more to reach all children in need, wherever they live, wherever they are excluded and left behind,” said Mr. Lake. “If we overcome the barriers that have kept these children from the services they need and that are theirs by right, then millions more will grow up healthy, attend school, and live more productive lives.”
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