We are commemorating Children’s Day today with a focus on kids growing up in slums. While the country has made progress on developing city infrastructure, children have been given divided attention. Urban children, especially those from disadvantaged sections, are susceptible to ill-health, poor access to water and sanitation, insufficient education, urban disasters and lack of protection.
While education is seen as the most efficient tool to lessen this divide between the poor and the privileged, the children of Indian slums also are faced with the elusive triangle of access, equity and quality of education. While India slums are home to 27.4% children in the age group of seven to 18 years, only 17% government schools are located in urban areas. A PWC study in Delhi indicated that 31.5% slum children have never attended school.
Slum development is assumed to be neutral. But this is often not the case. Infrastructure such as housing, water supply, playgrounds, toilets, roads, transport services, etc. that seemingly respond to diverse needs of able and disabled males and females of all age groups are more often focused on an able bodied adult male. Urban planners continue to assume that what is good for adult males is good for children, women, elderly and the disabled and that they have similar needs and aspirations as adult males. This is far from the reality.
Children often feel excluded due to non-inclusive architectural design, absence of safety standards, and general fear of abuse or crime. Adults too perceive these conditions of lack of safety and often restrict children from those perceived unsafe spaces, as it is easier than trying to make those spaces safe.
An inclusionary approach alone can counter the existing exclusionary tendencies related to infrastructure, access, mobility, etc that restrict children from public spaces. For example, Praxis engaged in participatory research with children living in urban slums to understand the problems with infrastructure. Subsequently, Praxis formulated a child-led participatory plan for building inclusive cities with active contributions from children, child rights experts, sector leaders and urban planners.
Humara Bachpan Trust is an NGO that creates a support group for children in slums to engage them into learning civic rights and duties. The elder children help the younger one’s highlight issues and work together towards a solution.
Their approach to child-friendly cities is two-pronged: they first articulate the problem in a written appeal with the concerned official and then approach them to with a proposed action plan. As a result, these children are aware of their civic duties and rights, understand the governance mechanism of their locality and actively participate in creating a better neighbourhood.