Children are not at the centre of city development as policies are planned for adults. It is time we start building a child policy for India.
In 2021, India will aim at retrofitting 20 of its cities, to experience them from the perspective of a three-year-old with an average height of 3 feet or approximately 95 centimetres. Very often it is observed that play areas or garden furniture is created for older children and walkways are not customised for toddlers or prams. Children are not at the centre of city development as policies are planned for adults.
The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MOHUA) has launched and is leading the ‘Nurturing Neighbourhoods’ challenge for creating infants, caregivers, toddlers (ICT) friendly cities. It will approve 20 pilot plans, which will create interventions through city spatial plans, public spaces and landscapes, streetscapes, budgeting, public mobility and community engagement. This challenge is not restricted to smart city missions, but to agencies including municipal bodies, transport authorities and state regional development authorities. For now, the mission is inviting proposals that will move forward into the implementation stages from February 2021. The idea is to motivate cities to change their approaches and divert them towards creating an urban life that includes and incorporates the needs of an infant until he/she/they grow(s) to become a five-year old.
According to the 2011 census figures, 9.7 per cent of the population of India was in the age group of newborns to four years of age, which is about 97 million children. The challenge encourages cities to first envision child and caregiver-centric development by creating a blueprint and then identifying issues, challenges and possible strategies that could be implemented. At the next stage, there would be local stakeholder consultations to understand the needs of the neighbourhood and caregivers. This much-needed change in approach begins with changes at a neighbourhood level, where they will create child and caregiver-friendly streets and public spaces along with basic infrastructure connectivity that is oriented towards toddlers and, ultimately, preparing for emergencies and pandemics through medical services and accessibility.
Before any of this comes into place, the first step will be to ensure that the right data is generated to map the number of young children in a particular locality and the number of caregivers, where they go, what they do, how they access the nearby parks, health centers, playschools, childcare centres and shopping stores that cater to their needs. This will be further extended to the public transportation services and the level of child friendliness they exhibit. This will be crucial in helping mark the inequalities in cities, and different strategies will have to be adopted in the areas that are economically and socially weaker to create and foster inclusiveness. It will also help in creating child-friendly maps for cities and in creating routes and identifying spaces that are safe and secure for all children.
Once these basic studies are done, plans for children that consider their sensibilities will need to be created — where planners will work with behavioural scientists and local networks to determine their needs. While in some cases, the interventions needed may be small and may not need much funding, the rule of thumb could be that if the young children population is almost 10 percent of the total population, then an equal budget could be allocated in every aspect towards this population. Rotterdam spent almost USD 18 million on improving and changing its open spaces, accessibility and traffic routes in lower income neighbourhoods to make it child-friendly.
Many of these interventions may also need to bring in some fundamental policy changes, and the authorities will need to figure out what those may be. There will be a need to create digital platforms that will interact with caregivers to give them information about the various amenities and activities that the neighborhoods have to offer. In 2017, Tel Aviv city launched the ‘Digitaf’ which means digital for toddlers; it gives you the facility to book a doctor’s appointment online, gives you information on free services or discounted products and even events for children.
Tirana in Albania, which has taken a 360-degree view of making the city child-friendly, started off with having huge protests after the local authority tried to acquire space for creating its first ever playground in 2015. It has over 200 playgrounds in 2020. It works on the principle that a child-friendly city is one that promotes children’s rights and permits children to have more of a say in decisions that affect them. It boasts a “city council for kids,” where young representatives meet the mayor, debate and take their findings back to school. Now, it has gone ahead and appointed an urban child chief development officer to ensure Tirana not only develops further, but also looks at more innovations that impact children positively.
While this challenge will spark off the initiative in India, few cities have already made strides in that direction. While Pune and Udaipur have made certain child-friendly modifications to few of their open spaces and pedestrian walkways, the city of Bhubaneshwar has laid the road ahead for Indian cities and could be a good template for others. It has set up a Bhubaneswar Urban Knowledge Centre (BUKC), solely dedicated to making the city child-oriented. Children have a complete say in the city plans and designs and it will be the first to have a child-friendly development plan in 2040. It has also floated a city website for children and has pelican (pedestrian-controlled lights) traffic signals near schools that are used by children.
For the past few years, it has been observed that India has been preaching about the power of its youth, and rightly so, considering that the average age of an Indian is 29. But while concentrating on this economic dividend, which makes up for 64 per cent of the population, it is equally important to ensure that the same thrust is given to early child development when the youngest citizens of India are going through rapid brain development and absorbing life skills. It is time that we could look beyond the 20 pilot cities, and start building a child policy for India, which looks at the entire country from a 95-centimeter tall elevation.
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Sayli UdasMankikar was a Senior Fellow with the ORF's political economy programme. She works on issues related to sustainable urbanisation with special focus on urban ...Read More +