Urban children are growing up with poor mental and physical development due to a lack of required open space and safety, said experts at a workshop yesterday.
As a result of this unplanned and rapid urbanisation, children are being forced to remain confined to their home.
It is crucial that the decision-makers prioritise the needs and aspiration of children in the process of executing any development scheme, they added.
The workshop on “Role of media in building child-friendly cities” was organised by Save the Children and The Daily Star at The Daily Star Centre in the capital.
“Safety of children in a city like Dhaka is unthinkable, as they lack a safe space -- be it footpath, public transport or playground,” said Md Moinul Islam, urban planner of Narayanganj City Corporation.
Ideally, a city should have 45 percent of its area as open spaces such as parks, playgrounds and lakes, he said. But in reality, most of the available open spaces have either been encroached upon or destroyed in the name of development.
Nearly 57 million out of 150 million people are children under 18 years in the country, he said. According to the World Health Organization, every child needs at least an hour of vigorous physical activity every day.
“Do our urban children get that opportunity?” said the urban planner.
Syed Matiul Ahsan, a deputy director at Save the Children, said children in Dhaka cannot even go to school without some sort of an escort. And rest of the time, they remain confined to their home. There is also an extreme sense of insecurity among them regarding outside, he added.
Though people are fed with much-hyped mega transport projects, the existing footpaths are neither free nor safe for an adult, let alone children, he said.
Reefat Bin Sattar, a director at Save the Children, said the country, especially its urban areas, is facing severe air pollution due to rapid and unplanned urbanisation.
Air pollution is one of the main reasons behind respiratory diseases. Even though success in immunisation programmes is widely publicised, children are being victims of respiratory diseases due to the pollution.
“It is extremely important that we listen to the children before we embark on development programmes,” he said.
Maruf Hossain, programme director of Work for a Better Bangladesh Trust, said there is barely any space left for pedestrians on footpaths. The space has been obstructed in so many ways, it is quite impossible for children to walk. “The overhead footbridges are not suitable for them either,” he added.
Prof Akter Mahmud, vice president of Bangladesh Institute of Planners, said the existing open spaces, whose number is very low, are also being grabbed by influential people for commercial purposes. He also stressed the need for an assessment on the implementation of all urbanisation and transport plans. This would help understand the actual scenario, he added.
Nahim Razzzaq, a member of parliamentary caucus for children's rights development, said many city parks and playgrounds have been occupied illegally. Those must be freed. He said they would launch a pilot project of a sports complex at Gulshan central playground within this year. Iqbal Habib, joint secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa), said a city should be for all. He said a project has been approved to restore and develop 54 parks and playgrounds in the capital.
Mahfuz Anam, editor and publisher of The Daily Star, said, “If a city is not friendly to children, who it is then friendly to?”
He said nowadays it has become a daily struggle to move around in the city due to traffic congestion along with noise and air pollution. The scenario was completely different before. Even in the seventies, Dhaka dwellers could roam around the city free of congestion. They could enjoy a rickshaw ride without facing much hassle. “We have destroyed our cities in the name of development.”
Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan, associate editor of The Daily Star, said infrastructure development should not take place at the cost of human development.
Golam Mortoza, editor of the Shaptahik, moderated the discussion.