Tikender Singh Panwar, Simi Mehta, Ritika Gupta

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. Recognizing the positive influence of children on urban planning, 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.

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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 decentralization alone but also, the democratization of the processes in order to empower people. Skilful city planning comprises various elements such as ensuring the safety, security, and nutrition of children.

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Mr 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.

Trends of Urbanisation

The scale of urbanization in India is ever-increasing and the nation has one of the largest Urban Systems in the world. 39 percent of the total population comprises children and of that, 128.5 million children live in urban settings. 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 the 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 6 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. 

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Challenges for Children in Cities

Traffic and congestion in the cities can expose children to various dangers. Reports state that transport-related injuries ranked 4th as a cause of death among children between 5 and 14 years in India in 2016. Many children lack access to playgrounds in their vicinities. Due to this, they lack physical activity and 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 19081 in 2016 to 21425 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 the narrow streets of their neighbourhood also made them feel unsafe. 

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URDPFI Guidelines state that an Anganwadi should be present for every housing area or a cluster of 5000 people but there are only 7 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 place children in a difficult position during natural calamities as they will suffer due to their limited physical ability to cope up. 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 very beneficial.

Inclusive Planning and Governance

Mr. Manish spoke about a child-friendly city which, according to 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.

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, age, gender, and disability segregated data are of utmost importance. There is also a need to prioritize the most deprived and marginalized 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 sensitized about their role in safe, clean, and resilient cities. Child-friendly governance mechanism should be in such a manner that the Action plans are 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.

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Decentralization: The Role of Children in Localities

Informal organization of meetings including children, mothers, local ward councillors, and municipal officials was done by Urban Programme and Policy, Save the Children to engage the stakeholders in conversations about city planning. The program 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.

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Many people expect equal opportunities but usually, the voices of children are missing. Adults should give children the space to take part in programs where their opinions are considered and ideas valued.

Any planning process should consist of engagement with the public.

Re-emphasis on Disaggregated Data

Taking questions from the audience, Mr Manish 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.

Final Remarks

Mr 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. Mr Manish thanked the organizers for conducting the talk at an appropriate time. Finally, Dr Arjun Kumar introduced Generation Alpha Data Centre to fill the gaps in data.

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Acknowledgement: Ritheka Sundar is a Research intern at IMPRI

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