Children must have a voice in the kind of city that they want, as they carry the burden of the future.(Yogendra Kumar/HT File)
Children must have a voice in the kind of city that they want, as they carry the burden of the future.(Yogendra Kumar/HT File)

Children must have a voice in the kind of city they want

A child-friendly city would have to protect them from violence, allow them to grow up in an inclusive space, and let their voices be heard.
By Kalpana Viswanath
PUBLISHED ON DEC 20, 2018 03:55 PM IST

Go to any park in Gurugram (or any other city in India) and it is likely you will be met with the wonderful sight of children playing. For a child, growing up in a city can be both a delightful experience as well as one fraught with dangers. Remember the scene from the movie Taare Zameen Par in which the boy walks the streets of Mumbai and experiences all its sights and smells? It was a heady scene, but almost unimaginable for our children.

The city street is seen as dangerous today — not a place to explore and discover. This applies equally to women, who are increasingly unable to access the city for pleasure and discovery. In most of our cities today, children are less able to venture out on their own. In Gurugram, because streets have not been designed for walking or cycling, children are not encouraged to go out by themselves at all. Further, safety concerns mean even more protection for children. For many of them, walking to school is not a reality anymore.

A child-friendly city is being talked about nowadays by international actors as well as the United Nations. Such a city would have to include features such as protection from violence, allowing children to grow up in an inclusive space, providing them with good quality open areas as well as letting their voices be heard regarding issues that affect their lives. A child-friendly city must also provide access to quality services and not discriminate against children, irrespective of their gender, social status and other such factors. In India, Bhubaneswar is one city that has included the phrase “child -friendly” in their planning — and made safe paths for walking, good crossings, streetlights, well-maintained parks.

Children must have a voice in the kind of city that they want, as they carry the burden of the future. They have clearly demonstrated their ability to be political actors. In the recent civic action to protect the Aravali Bio Diversity Park, students raised their voices to claim their right to green, open spaces. The campaign against bursting firecrackers has been very successful, in part because the voices of children were most prominent. Children must be seen as contributers to making a city a better place for all.

Equally important are children who have fewer life opportunities because of economic and social issues. Good schooling and access to services are essential to building a more inclusive society and therefore, more inclusive cities. For example, not all children have access to parks, mostly those who live within gated communities. I have seen that sometimes children from economically weaker sections of the society are prevented from playing in public parks, which is an extreme form of discrimination. The right to play is as important as the right to go to school.

We are also living in times when screens occupy children’s time so much that they do not actually enjoy public spaces. Recent research has shown that the free play that children engage in, especially without the supervision of adults, helps teach them many social skills. Children must be included as important voices in the planning of cities so that they are able to influence their present as well as their future.

@SafetipinApp

(Kalpana Viswanath is the co-founder and CEO of Safetipin, a social enterprise. She works on issues of women’s safety and rights in cities)

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