Child friendly city for marginalised children in Bangladesh
From 1980 onwards, the problem of marginalised children in all developing countries, especially those countries in southern Asia such as Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, has received increased international response from various global actors. Since then, a series of formal and informal policies, rules, programs and institutions have been developed to ensure children's rights in general and marginalised children's rights in particular. However, several children's right's aggravating factors such as competitive interests in different social actors and public officials, poor public perception, lack of target group participation in policy planning and implementation, lack of comparative research on 'local, national and regional marginalised children policies', have been identified and some overcoming measures taken, thereby at least trying to achieve millennium child development goal. Question remains how we would be able to achieve our millennium child development goals within short period of time? In response to this question, in recent year UNICEF has been more interested to develop a new indicator-based system to monitor and evaluate existing programs for addressing the problem of marginalised children. According to UNICEF (2012), this system helps local governments to easily engage in accreditation process to become child friendly city. Discussions on child friendly cities in the context of marginalised children with recommendations that will hopefully help, in my view, both policy makers and social worker to ensure good governance in terms of child protection.
What is child friendly city?
In Nordic countries, the public policy in terms of family welfare policy has significantly provided for the needs of children in general. According to many social sciences scholars like Katja Forssén (2002) and Maritta Törrönen (2006), Nordic family welfare policy has been taken an effort to transform cities into what are termed 'child-friendly cities' (CFC). The concept of CFC appears to be simple. But it has created some controversies. Thus it is necessary to discuss CFC as a concept in the context of marginalised children in Bangladesh, for example. Firstly, the concept of CFC seeks to assure, in my view, the full rights of all children as young citizens. Secondly, according to child rights practitioner Riggio (2002), CFC allows full scope for children to express their views freely and attributes adequate importance to their views. Thirdly, by considering broad-based policy approach, reactive approach and proactive approach, CFC is constructed to provide a comprehensive direction to child rights in general. Fourthly, in the book namely street children and services (2012), Moula wrote CFC concept entitles marginalised children, e.g. street children, to: influence the decision-making powers in the city; present their opinions concerning city affairs; take part in family, community and social life; have access to basic services in areas of health, education and shelter; have access to safe water and sanitation; be protected from exploitation, violence and abuse; be able to walk safely in the streets; be able to meet friends and play; have green space in a sound environment; be able to live in an environment free from pollution; be able to participate in cultural and social events; be able to receive love, affection and care; and have the right to receive all services without discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, religion, gender or disability. Hence, the concept of CFC is based generally upon four key principles: (1) Non-discrimination; (2) The best interests of the child; (3) The right to life and development; and (4) Respect for the children's views. Taking into account these four guiding principles, for a couple of decades, the state signatories to the UN charter on children's rights have been trying to ensure that their children's services operate well to meet the needs of children in general. For example, as the member of UN charter on children's rights the government of Bangladesh has formulated its children policy called the 'National Plan of Action for Children 2011' is a comprehensive five year plan for promoting the welfare of Bangladesh children. Thus, we could say that the idea of CFC is important not only in developed countries but also in developing countries because of uncontrolled urbanization. This also caused some children to their structural disadvantaged position in the society. These knowledgeable children have to move to the cities to find means of work on the streets merely for physical survival, and to support their families. For example, according to National Report Bangladesh by UNICEF (2009), around 26.5 million children in Bangladesh live below the national poverty line; most of them live in the periphery of urban cities of Bangladesh. These children suffer from lack of cities services and support. Unfortunately, this picture of marginalised children in many of southern Asia countries is still questionable in terms of the application of CFC. To get the answer of this question we have to know about how many strategies and programmes in different part of the world have been considered the notion of CFC to promoting the needs and rights of marginalised children in particular. Therefore, this requires, in my view, moving on to discuss the CFC movement. Because the CFC movement vision focused that all the rights of children should be protected (Riggio 2002, 52-56; Moula 2012, 31-32).
Child friendly cities movement
According to Marco Coris (2002), project assistant, UNICEF Innocent Research Centre, the CFC movement took shape in Italy in the 1990s, and the CFC movement is a major approach which is both holistic and sensitive to marginalised children, e.g. street children. The Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and the Habitat 'Conference Two' in Istanbul in 1996 called for sustainable urban development serving the needs of all categories of people. Both these conferences set the background for what emerged in Italy as a movement for child-friendly cities. In 1996 the Italian Ministry for the Environment launched a programme called 'Sustainable Cities for Girls and Boys'. According to Marco Coris, this project came up with the idea of re-planning cities to make them child-friendly in terms of transportation, open space and other initiatives. This was kind of competition where over 80 cities took part, and 15 cities received awards for child-friendliness. Its basic idea is to promote the participation of children at both institutional and cultural levels. It allows the children to present their opinions and points of view in public decision-making at city level. Hence, we could say that the CFC also allowed a system in order to ensure agent's interactions, 'where each member likes children and social worker/policy makers, has a role in, and in reciprocally affected by, the system.
The CFC movement has now spread to other countries and is being coordinated by a CFC secretariat, which also carries out field research on the involvement of children in city administration, maintains a network of CFC cities, preserves a database for CFC initiatives, publishes research and advocacy documents, and promotes CFC initiatives all over the world (see Riggio 2002). Moreover, following the notion of CFC, various strategies and programmes have been undertaken in different parts of the world promoting the needs and rights of marginalised children. In this regard the involvement of World Bank with street children programme would be an example for the particular audience not only in developing countries, but also in developed countries.
In this paper I have given particular emphasis to the concept of the child-friendly city, as I see this would be the ultimate solution for marginalised children in Bangladesh. We have also discussed that the paradigm of CFC is not only largely associated with the macro-structure of society rather micro-structure of society and it culture in general. Additionally, the concept of CFC is associated with the changing perspective of the child rights and social policies for service system and elimination of marginalised children. These children are one of the major developmental impediments for many poor countries in Southeast Asia. In our discussions we have been seeing why child rights practitioners and organizations focused to give wet on context-based CFC. This is simply just because the implementation processes of CFC is somehow failed to address the vulnerability of marginalised children in developing countries like Bangladesh. As a result, day by day the number of marginalised is increasing notoriously. As such, questions remain whether globalization in terms of millennium child development goals have able to been achieved within its given time frame or not? Does child friendly city is a local system for good governance to all communities or only for children? Questions like these must be answered through research in order to understand the child friendly city in the context of marginalised children in southern Asia in general, and to evaluate and upgrade the existing support delivery system and construct new ones that are relevant and comprehensive
Recapitulating, considering the emergence of new structured of CFC, UNICEF, for example, has been more interested to consider local indicators to re-develop CFC to ensure good governance in terms of child protection. Thus, context-based CFC would be the good instrument to reducing the vulnerability of marginalised children in developing countries like Bangladesh.
The writer is a Doctor of Social Sciences, Department of Energy Technology, Aalto University, Finland.