Q: What are the specific characteristics and manifestations of inequity and inequality in children’s lives in the urban context? What is the link between poverty and inequity in cities?
A: Thank you very much for including my perspective in this study. I think some of the specific issues that affect child equity and inequality in the urban context are of two kinds, which should be considered together. What do I mean by this?
There are specific issues that impact children that are different from inequity and inequality, which affect groups, not children but adults. And then there are issues specific to the urban context, which are different from what happens in rural areas.
And when you look at these two together, then you can see what is specific about urban children’s lives. So let’s start with the child part. There are two basic issues to look at.
When we ask, “what are the particular elements of inequity and equality for children?”, we need to distinguish between whether we are talking about babies, early childhood, childhood, or adolescents. Each of these are a part of the child’s life cycle, with specific issues, different from those that affect adults.
The most important and clearest of these issues, which are different for children and adults, is income inequality. Why? Because children in principle should not be earning an income, they should not even be thinking about income inequality. We can talk about income inequality across households with and without children, and how that affects children specifically, but income is in principle something that relates to adults. Child labor is one indicator of inequality that automatically negatively impacts children and not adults. Children are not supposed to work long hours, in difficult conditions, for pay. Adults are supposed to work. We cannot talk about adult labor as an issue, in the same way that we talk about child labor. There are specific things that happen to children, and they are happening in particular in urban areas.
The other big categories has to do with environmental issues and urban transportation and traffic issues. What is particularly important for children in urban areas is how these issues are distributed among different categories of children, and specifically, different categories of urban children.
Next there is a question of poverty and inequity. Poverty is a lack of something. Something, usually material and concrete, is missing. Inequity is about differentials in outcomes, differentials that we think are unfair. Now what happens is, sometimes what we think is unfair is one of the causes of why some people do not reach a certain minimum and don’t have enough. An example of this is poverty. Poverty is unfair, there should be no poverty. In this day and age there is no reason to have people suffering from poverty and there would be no poverty if resources were properly distributed. There are various international instruments that directly single out poverty as a human rights violation. This lack of fairness distinguishes inequality and inequity.
Q: Which population group do you believe is most affected by urban inequity (early childhood, girls/boys, children with disabilities, immigrants, etc.)?
A: When you look at a child’s life cycle, there is not necessarily a particular age during which children suffer more than others. The reason is that the suffering is different. An older child’s experience, in terms of their participation, their empowerment, their opportunity to express what they think and what they feel is very different from what you’d expect of a 2 year old. From a 2 year old you’re looking at whether they’re nourished, properly stimulated, so the issues are different. And we cannot say one is more important than the other, even if I were to use metrics to measure inequity across different indicators. There are so many dimensions we need to look at. For one [age group], a key issue is nutrition but for others it’s health and access to services. So just because one number is greater doesn’t mean the age group is worst off than the others. However, you also included in your question groups that are not age groups, like children with disabilities, then the question is: are we talking about disparities between the group or within the group? I think the most interesting is between one group and another group. Cities are difficult for people with disabilities, I am not sure whether it is more difficult than in rural areas but the access issues are different anywhere children have less of an opportunity than local children.
In terms of migrant children, we have to distinguish between two types of immigration. There is international immigration and there is immigration within countries. In many cases there are stark differences between local children and children from other countries. I would say the most important differences in terms of child wellbeing, which are the most difficult to measure, are issues that affect street children. These children are in a different category altogether. They do not go to school and spend all day in the street. They do not have a household because they have no family, no home. I think those children are the most affected by urban inequality.
They are in the streets because their whole family is homeless. They are the most affected or the furthest away in terms of living a fulfilling life, from the rest of children the same age. The more active they are in the streets the worst off they are. Kids who are in the streets, even if it’s after work, are better off than the children who are in the streets the whole day, and not in school.
Q: In regards to the question about the most affected children, you mentioned many times different measures of equality. Is the impact of inequity being measured and monitored in policies?
A: Yes, the long answer is yes, the long answer is yes but not enough.
Q: So you’re saying that it is being measured but not enough. How can we improve this?
A: There have been many studies, national studies and cross country studies looking at equity in urban areas, many of these take children into account or look specifically at children.
That’s why the answer to the equity or type of equity being measured in the urban context is – they are but there’s a long way to go. The main entry point is of course to live in the city being studied. If you inhabit a city, you have a way of analyzing situations by comparing people who are living in a relatively well off way, or are relatively ok, or not okay, or are living in slums in big cities. The studies examine various outcomes with different child welfare or wellbeing indicators. At UNICEF, we conducted such as study in Latin America.
There is an association, I can find the reference if you want, which is basically an international association of mayors, an NGO, a group of big cities mayors in the world. They participate in debates. They, in various ways, make assessments of inequity in urban areas across the world.
There has been work done, sometimes using the same conceptual approach, to categorize households and families in various cities to create an analysis of gaps and differences. These analyses have been applied in different countries, but even when the conceptual approach was the same, the indicators and thresholds to calculate gaps between various population groups have been different. In addition, there are other studies with completely different approaches. I’m not saying one approach is right and one is wrong, I’m saying a lot more work needs to be done in order to conduct more systematic studies and to be able to compare results meaningfully. That’s why yes some work was done but a lot more needs to be done to make studies more comparable, more coherent across countries and to ensure that they cover a greater population.
Q: You mentioned two areas in which these measurements can be improved, what are they specifically?
A: One is that we need to have more consistency, more similarity in the way we approach comparison.
Two is that we need to include more people and more cities in the studies. Those are the two areas.
When I say we need to be able to make studies more comparable, I mean that I think it’s important to compare across cities and countries so that the information on inequity in the cities is used by urban planners and policy makers to make life better for those living there. If they do that with metrics from a different city that’s ok, it’s not end of the world.
Q: Following that idea who do you think are the main stakeholders who should be involved in implementing and maintaining the equity approach?
A: The main stakeholders are the urban planners and decision makers because they can do something about it. Both academic institutions and intergovernmental institutions like UNICEF will sometimes engage in cross county/city analysis. In Nigeria, for example, we are doing an analysis about urban children and we are doing that through a collaboration with local organizations, but this is only for Nigeria. And that is fine because we are not an academic institution, we are an agency. But in other parts of the world, the collaboration could be with a regional entity, maybe an organization is doing a study and proposes it and has a dialogue with a Latin American association of mayors. UNICEF has a very important policy dialogue with mayors there as we were doing an analysis of urban studies in Latin America. Institutions and academics provided the analysis and collaborated with governments to examine how to fix issues that surfaced.
But there is also a need for political will. It needs to happen every day in the political arena. So the other important stakeholders in this discussion are NGOs, groups or neighborhood associations, a lot of civil society, groups of people who can push to lobby, to advocate, to claim, assist. Urban planners and decision makers can propose. It is important to remember that children are stakeholders too, I want to say children and not just adolescents. They should participate, they have a voice and a stake, usually citizens are not friendly to adolescents. They think of adolescents as dangerous so they’re persecuted or looked at with suspicion and harassed. Adolescents need to congregate and engage in activities including political discussions. This is the period in life when ideas of right and wrong and identity and political opinions start to take shape, and there should be ways to channel that energy for the good of the city. They have to participate.
And to conclude, I watched a collection of videos 15 years ago about child participation in designing public spaces. These were children that were so young they could not read or write. They were 3 or 4 years old. And they were allowed to participate in the design of the square of the neighborhood so they drew what they wanted to see in the square — trees, flowers — and they came up with ideas that the adult designers did not think of and ended up including in the design of the square. So even very young children, if properly channeled and given the elements to do it, have power to give their opinions to make their urban spaces more livable.