Nepali Times
Making cities child-friendly

On the launch of The State of the World's Children report this week, UNICEF's Nepal representative, Hanaa Singer, spoke to Nepali Times on the needs of the children of urban poor in the country.

Nepali Times: One in every five Nepalis live in cities, what sort of challenges does this throw up for children of the urban poor?
Hanaa Singer
: The latest State of the World's Children report has been a wakeup call to all of us. In Nepal the number of people living in urban areas will definitely go up from the present 19 per cent. Unfortunately urban infrastructure and services have not been able to keep pace, leading to deprivations that affect children the most, especially those vulnerable children living or working on the streets or living in the slums. Children living in urban poverty are often more undernourished than those living in rural areas. And those living in urban slums are among the least likely to be registered at birth, immunised or attending school. Child death rates are very high too among the poorest versus the richest populations in the cities.

Is it that urgent? After all, children in cities are closer to basic services than rural children?
Too often, the poorest and most marginalised children in cities lack access to the basic services on their doorstep, and are disproportionately vulnerable to violence, exploitation, injuries, illness and death. When children living in slums or dark inner alleys of the city grow up surrounded by wealth and opportunities from which they are excluded, it can give rise to frustrations and ill will. A study of 24 of the world's wealthiest countries has confirmed that the more 'unequal' a society is, the higher the rate of crime, violence and imprisonment. Investing in children and adolescents always makes sense, even economically.

In Nepal, how does UNICEF propose to address this inequality?
During the ceremony to launch The State of the World's Children report this week, Neeraj Malla, a 12-year-old working child from Biratnagar, told the guests: "If a city can be made friendly enough for little ones like me, it can surely be fit for adults like you." He was so right. When a city becomes 'child-friendly' and we address the needs of the most marginalised children, everyone else also benefits. UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Local Development to promote 'Child Friendly Local Governance' which ensures the participation of children in the planning phases, and allocation of some financial resources dedicated to children programs to be decided upon by the young people of the village, district or municipality .

UNICEF works with its partners in eight municipalities considered as hubs of child labour to provide children with access to formal and non-formal education or vocational training by providing them with life skills, psychosocial counseling, or medical care, legal aid, or reunification with their families.

We also need to work vigorously towards building a comprehensive child protection system in Nepal to strengthen this system from the central level to the ward and community levels. At the moment, since the systems are not in place, it is like having laws without teeth. It is only when systems are established that we can properly and systematically address cases of child abuse, exploitation and neglect.

The government is trying to evict slum dwellers along the rivers in Kathmandu. What do you think will be the consequences for the children living there?
This is a very sensitive issue and needs to be treated with care. The starting point is to identify the bottlenecks and barriers and to review how they can be overcome. Ensuring that all children are registered and documented is one priority step giving them dignity and security as opposed to bitterness and frustration. All people, adults as well as children, need to have official documentation showing who they are and where they live. Then there must be a longer term planning which provide options and alternatives for housing.

Many families from rural areas have migrated to cities for better opportunities, and most children from such families usually choose working over education. How can we make sure they go to school?
You are right, education normally gets sacrificed if the push for earning a livelihood is overwhelming. Yet I am impressed by the love and the commitment of parents and children towards education and they are usually very eager to join education programs if given an option that will accommodate the realistic needs of those working children and yet give them an opportunity to learn. The Urban Out Of School Program is one such option, as is the Girls Access to Education (GATE) providing a 9-month package particularly for girls from disadvantaged groups.

These programs include life skills together with literacy and numeracy and is immensely popular, they allow children to enjoy two hours of childhood in their young lives and the results are so heartwarming, and gives one so much hope for a brighter future.

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1. Dibya
I think there is nothing new in the research report. Poverty, marginalization etc are already identified or understood issues therefore UNICEF should focus on how to address the problem rather than study or any project based activities.


2. Puspa

Obviously, UNICEF Rep has made very nice comments on urban poverty, especially among children. It is, however, of great concern to me that UNICEF in Nepal needs to focus on majority of rural children. To improve their quality of life so those less children immigrate to urban 'slums' in search of 'job'. I would also appreciate if it could influence major government bodies to enact timely and appropriate legislations, policies, programmes and implementing bodies. This would lead to sustainable children's issues. For example: The Child Rights (Promotion & Protection) Act is long awaiting for endorsement from parliament or ministry of law and justice etc, The Central Child Welfare Board is operating with very limited resources, the teachers working in schools are not appropriately trained on children's issues, parents do not have appropriate knowledge about it either. In this context, if UNICEF diverts its focus from rural to urban is not very timely.

My intention is not to leave urban children in misery but to make them happy at their origin, rural villages would help everyone. thanks

3. Govind
All what is said is fine, there is nothing new. May I huumbly say that the chiefs of UN agencies should NOT behave like a diplomatic ambassador. They have a different mandate than a diplomatic ambassador since they are paid through UN funds which belong to all member countries. We would certainly like them to do more work than talk. Look at the hierarchy in each country. They have a representative, deputy representative and assistant representatives and many more. It seems that most of the valuable resources that ought to be used in improving the status of children are instead used in doing the PR work and liaison work with the government. What we need is not a class of representatives but workers, real workers to support in strategy, planning and implementation and evaluation in partnership with GON and other stakeholders so that status of children is improved.

4. Hanaa Singer
Thanks for your comments.well said and noted. I hope you will also follow our work in the districts, VDC's in the Tarai, Hills and mountains, the areas of health, water and sanitation, education, child protection , HIV/AIDS.  We have an army of real workers ,fantastic nepali and international staff working all over the country working with the gov, NGO's and people.  We will make every effort to work harder so that together we can make Nepal and better place for children.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)