By-Raksha Sharda, Humara Bachpan Campaign
Children living in urban poverty are not only deprived of affordable housing but also basic services such as electricity, safe water, paved roads, public space and poor infrastructure in terms of schools and health care facilities. Children are exposed to multiple risks in cities: polluted air, dirty water, traffic accidents, lack of sanitation, inadequate nutritional intake, garbage dumps surrounding their living areas which also turn out to be their playgrounds.
There is a need to turn focus and attention to children in urban areas than has not been done so far. To address the issues of children and mainstreaming their needs in the urban agenda UNICEF and the UN Habitat launched the Child Friendly Cities Initiative in 1996. The initiative has now evolved into a worldwide movement with municipalities in different countries promoting and implementing initiatives to realize the rights of a child. In all of these countries, authorities are working to ensure that children’s rights are reflected in policies, laws, programmes and budgets at the local level.
The phrase “child-friendly” is multi-dimensional and comprehensive. Firstly, it is about the attitudes and sensitization of child friendly issues, secondly, it is related to child friendly behaviors, and thirdly it is concerned with child friendly planning and infrastructures as well as publications. A tripartite bond can only help to create a child friendly environment. It is a city, or more generally a system of local governance, committed to fulfilling children’s rights, which includes: influencing the decision about their city, express their opinion, participate in family, community and social life, receive basic services, walk and play safely, live in an unpolluted environment be an equal citizen of their city and a well-planned indicators of quality of life. In a child-friendly city, children are active agents, their voices and opinions are considered and influence the decision making process.
Following these guidelines Nepal along with the support from UNICEF took a key initiative of Child-Friendly Local Governance (CFLG) which seeks to put children at the core of the development agenda of local bodies, line agencies and civil societies. CFLG provides a framework or an overall guidance to the government in realizing and mainstreaming the rights of children which includes survival, development, protection and participation into the local government system, structure, policies and process. It facilities and coordinates the realization of child-rights at and between the national and sub-national level. UNICEF has been working closely with the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development (MoFALD), to develop the CFLG strategy that promotes all stakeholders at the local level to plan together to achieve the results for children as outlined in the strategy. The strategy is also being supported by various NGOs to adopt a bottom up approach for promoting planning for children and ensuring the participation of children in these processes. A child-friendly governance system is a stepping stone to ensure that the cities also become child-friendly.
Another key initiative taken by GoN is the establishment of Center Child Welfare Board (CCWB) and District Child Welfare Boards (DCWBs) in 75 districts of Nepal which carries out massive programs to aware and sensitizes children and community on child rights; protect children from abuses and violations and legal support. Other initiatives made by the Government of Nepal (GoN) include: development and implementation of 10 year child development plan (2004-2014), declaring the National Child Policy (2012).
At the policy level, the MoFALD convinced the GoN to officially endorse CFLG as an integral part of its Local Governance and Community Development Program (LGCDP) which is a multi-stakeholder governance programme between Government of Nepal and thirteen development partners. Secondly, CFLG also got reflected in the GoN’s Three Year Interim Plan. In terms of budgetary provision, MoFALD ensure a mandatory provision of 10% for women, 10% for children and 15% for CFLG initiatives specified in the Village Development Committee (VDC) and District Development Committee (DDC) block grant guidelines endorsed by the Cabinet. CFLG national framework also includes provision for 15% of the overall local body resources to be allocated for CFLG initiatives. Further, Municipal authorities have committed NRs 23 million (US$ 3.1 million) for CFLG initiatives over the next five years. These efforts are commendable and should act as an eye opener for other countries including India. Though, monetary provisions alone to do not guarantee progress, but GoN have made tremendous efforts to ensure effective implementation of CFLG.
At the local level, CFLG has been rolled out in 39 districts, 15 municipalities and 300 VDCs. Children are making their voices heard through 13,291 active Child Clubs in over 52 districts, and as members of the 40,000 Ward Citizens Forums, in the VDC, DDC and Municipal planning committees as well. With 27 sectoral and 12 institutional indicators centred on child’s right, municipalities and VDCs implementing CFLG are taking steps to ensure that their cities/towns are child-friendly.
Municipalities have started looking at the process of development through the lens of a child wherein children voices and their participation in decision-making bodies is encouraged. In Dang district, for example, the municipality has made arrangements to allocate open spaces for parks. Child clubs in Biratnagar, which is the second largest city after Kathmandu have helped the municipality identify children missing out on education and immunization. These child club members also helped increase the enrolment of Muslim girls who had not been attending school due to the schools’ restriction on school uniforms. As soon as the children managed to convince Biratnagar and the District Education Office to allow those girls to wear salwar kameez instead of skirts, the girls started going to school. Biratnagar Municipality in partnership with Biratnagar child-clubs ensured that their voices were reflected in key local level policy documents and program interventions.
Real ‘child-friendliness’ can only be achieved through a long-term commitment of child friendly policies and the commitment levels of all concerned duty bearers and political will to the implementation of child rights. Unplanned urban sprawl, inaccessible housing, non-existence of basic services and loss of open green spaces has not only decreased the living standards of the people but it also increased its vulnerability to disasters. Despite these developmental challenges, Nepal is encouraging CFLG making it a national strategy and laying the foundation for building child-friendly cities. While our neighbouring country is taking strong initiatives to look the world through children’s eyes, encourage children participation, listen to their voices and respect children as human beings with their rights and responsibilities, this should act as an eye opener to the policy makers, bureaucrats, municipalities, civil society organizations in India to initiate towards a child-friendly local governance and ensure coordination and collaboration among various agencies leading the way toward a child-friendly governance and cities.