UNICEF Report Warns Cities Are Failing Our Children (VIDEO)

My young teenage son watched the Oscar award-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire last week, and although he enjoyed the drama and romance, he came away with a slew of poignant questions about the urban poor. Do they all live in slums? Why is there so much violence? How do the children survive?

An urban dweller himself, he wondered how his world could be so acutely different from the world of the children in the film. He and his sister never have to worry about shelter, clothing or where their next meal will come from. They attend some of the country’s best schools and have access to some of the country’s best doctors.

All of this stands in sad and stark contrast to the information released yesterday in UNICEF‘s flagship annual report, The State of the World’s Children 2012: Children in an Urban World. As UNICEF warns, our cities are failing our children.

Hundreds of millions of children live in urban slums. The great irony is that even though many of them live within a stone’s throw of hospitals and schools, community centers and facilities with plumbing and electricity, all too often they have no access to even these most basic of these services. Water for example, can cost 50 times more for the poor than for the wealthy. Why? In wealthy neighborhoods, houses are connected to water mains. In poor neighborhoods, houses may not have plumbing and residents have to buy this basic resource from private vendors.

“We’re approaching some sort of tipping point. Already more than half the world’s people live in cities and towns and so do more than a billion children,” said Abid Aslam, the editor of the report.

In fact, 1 in 3 people who live in cities, live in slum conditions. In Africa, it’s 6 in 10. By 2050, UNICEF estimates two thirds of the world’s population will live in urban settings. And who risks falling through the cracks? The children. As the report notes,

the impact on children living in such conditions is significant. From Ghana and Kenya to Bangladesh and India, children living in slums are among the least likely to attend school. And disparities in nutrition separating rich and poor children within the cities and towns of sub-Saharan Africa are often greater than those between urban and rural children.

The very real problem is that as more and more people migrate to urban areas in search of work and a better life for themselves and their families, infrastructure services are not keeping up with the growth. Children born in cities already account for 60% of the increase in urban populations. Add to that the fact that one third of children in urban areas don’t get birth certificates and therefore can’t get into social programs, and that poor children are often forced to forgo school in order to work and earn money for their families. Soon you have a such a perfect storm of inequity that generations risk being swallowed up.

As UNICEF’s executive director Anthony Lake wrote in the forward:

When many of us think of the world’s poorest children, the image that comes readily to mind is that of a child going hungry in a remote rural community in sub-Saharan Africa – as so many are today. But as The State of the World’s Children 2012 shows with clarity and urgency, millions of children in cities and towns all over the world are also at risk of being left behind… They are vulnerable to dangers ranging from violence and exploitation to the injuries, illnesses and death that result from living in crowded settlements atop hazardous rubbish dumps or alongside railroad tracks.

UNICEF is calling on governments to improve infrastructure and services to children, to identify and remove the barriers to inclusion, promote partnerships with the urban poor,  particularly children and youth, and pool resources so that marginalized populations can enjoy their full rights.

“Excluding these children in slums not only robs them of the chance to reach their full potential; it robs their societies of the economic benefits of having a well-educated, healthy urban population,” Lake said yesterday.

I’d like to be able to tell my son that things will change for his generation, but in order for that to happen, governments need to heed The State of the World’s Children‘s recommendations by putting children at the heart of urban planning and extending and improving services for all.

Take a look at this video about the launch of The State of the World’s Children 2012 report:

Related Reading:

One In Five American Children Living In Poverty

Women Stuck In Poverty In Asia

VIP Spotlight On The World’s Most Important People – Children

Photo credit: anuradha_sengupta via flickr


Carole R.
Carole R5 years ago

Very sad.

Dave C.
David C5 years ago

not just the cities, but societies in general...including the wealthy countries.....cities have benefits which we need to learn to maximize and faults which we need to minimize....just like anything and everything else in the world....

Miranda Lyon
Miranda L5 years ago

In total, everybody everywhere seem to be failing all the world's children.

Vicky Pitchford
Vicky P5 years ago


Jennifer C.
Past Member 5 years ago

Thank you.

Parvez Zuberi
Parvez Zuberi5 years ago

Very sad state of affair UNICEF in collaboration with the local GOVT have to resolve the issue to provide basic necessities to these unprivileged children

Heather M.
Heather M5 years ago

Oh for the day when all children don't have to worry about going hungry, or of violence, or worrying about not having clean water because the filth so many drink can kill. Oh for the day when little children can play and enjoy their lives and expect a full belly. I can dream!

Debbie L.
Debbie L5 years ago

It's sad that some of them come to the cities hoping to live a better life, only to dwell in the slums and become outcasts of society.

Lyn V.
Lyn V5 years ago

Send all these children to the people Denying women birth control

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L5 years ago

Governments from India to the United State must formulate plans and provide funds to turn the tide of their socities. They must simultaneously provide modern housing and educate people on hygiene and clean daily habits for their physical bodies, their cooking/diets and their housing. This might seem like an invasion of their privacy to some but you have to educate people to be able to improve their lot in life. They must make sure the adults get training for jobs and children get a quality education. All must have access to vaccinations and the same healthcare as the elite.

It is insane that governments cannot and are not providing these essentials in 2012 so that not only the lives of the poor improve but the lives of all their citizens improve along with them. There is no advantage to anyone in keeping poor people ignorant and in a cycle that only they with the help of their governments can break. I truly believe that with all types of education we can solve the world problems and have a healthier and peaceful planet and society. We should not let greed or religion stop us and that is what we are doing.