200 Million Poor Children in African Cities at Increasing Risk of Exploitation, Abuse and Disease

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New Save the Children Report Reveals Findings of Research with Over 1,000 African Children and Key Stakeholders

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Voices from Urban Africa
Voices from Urban Africa
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WESTPORT, Conn. (Dec. 5, 2012) — Social and economic development policies in Africa are ignoring the demographic realities of an increasing number of children living in poverty in urban slums with devastating impacts, according to a new report by Save the Children. The report, entitled Voices from urban Africa: The impact of urban growth on children, is based on interviews, focus groups and other research with more than 1,000 children, parents and other community and national stakeholders in seven cities in six African countries including Ethiopia, Malawi, Mali, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia.

"Already about 200 million children live in Africa's urban areas, and an increasing number are left vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and disease as populations move from rural to urban areas with little or no access to basic services," said Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children. "We are calling for increased commitment and targeted investment in partnerships and programs aimed at African children living in urban areas, particularly those most vulnerable."

The report highlights the demographic trends that put children in urban settings at increasing risk:

  • At present, about one-third (37 percent) of Africa's population is urban, but in the next two decades the majority of children are projected to live in urban areas. The region is currently experiencing the highest urban growth rates in the world.
  • Cities in sub-Saharan Africa contain the highest degree of urban poverty, prevalence of slum populations and measures of urban inequality of any region in the world. Currently, 60 percent of the African urban population lives in slum conditions.
  • Development indicators compare urban and rural areas within a country and rarely look at citywide statistics, within wealth sectors. Thus children and adults living in urban areas appear to be better off than those living in rural areas, creating an 'urban advantage' that obscure the hardships faced by those living in urban poverty and the vast inequalities present within urban communities.

The report identifies four key priority areas of need — child protection, health and nutrition, education and income generation/livelihoods.

  • Child Protection: Children, particularly without a parent or guardian, are exposed to risks and dangerous or age-inappropriate situations in public and often private settings. Particularly vulnerable are children with disabilities and unaccompanied children, including orphans and street children. Participants in the Adama, Ethiopia women's focus group said many children are brought to the city from rural areas by their relatives with promises of an education, but made to work as full-time domestic servants once they arrive. They also said many of these girls are abused and even raped by their relatives and are unable to escape their situation.
  • Health and Nutrition: Lack of water and sanitation facilities creates both public health and safety hazards and drains significant time and resources from poor families who are forced to spend many hours waiting in lines to access water. Poor families face many barriers to access health services, from cost to travel or waiting time due to overcrowding and lack of quality services. This especially impacts the lives of mothers and babies due to late care seeking among pregnant women — a common cause of maternal death and disability. Poor nutrition and hunger disproportionately affects the urban poor. Many slum families report eating two, sometimes only one, meal a day and poor children skip school to find food, beg or sell peanuts.
  • Education: Most children are missing out on proven benefits of early childhood care and development due to costs, especially those under the age of five. Poor children are not in school or experience many barriers to getting there, such as school fees, disabilities, bullying and sexual harassment by teachers and students, traditional ideas on gender roles, and pressure from families to engage in income-generating activities.
  • Livelihoods: Poor families often must rely on their children to contribute to economic survival, which can expose them to dangerous situations. Children as young as seven-years-old work for money or in-kind payment. Child labor includes street vending, piecework and running errands for adults, manual labor in mines and fields, illegal scavenging at mining sites, domestic work and transactional sex.

The report includes specific recommendations in each priority area, but Save the Children stresses the importance of working in partnership across sectors to create integrated programmatic responses, and for the need to improve research on the impact of urbanization on children to better support decision making and program design. This includes the need for urban statistics, disaggregated along socioeconomic and gender lines.

The report also talks about the need to create communities in urban settings that support children and families, particularly to increase child protection and prevent exploitation and abuse. "Children in rural areas are surrounded by grandparents, cousins, co-wives of their mothers and close neighbors," said Carol Miller, a co-author of the report. "Young children are rarely far from adults whom they know and trust, even when their parents are out searching for firewood or herding animals. This is not the case for children in urban communities who are often left at home alone for at least part of the day or sent to the market to work."

"We hope this report deepens understanding among the development community, including donors and policy makers, and helps us all respond more effectively to the needs of children throughout urban Africa," said Carolyn Miles. "With the right partnerships, the right resources and the right information, we can achieve real results for children."

To download a copy of the report, view a slide show, or learn more about the work Save the Children is doing for children in Africa and around the world, go to www.savethechildren.org/africareport.

Save the Children is the leading independent organization for children in need, with programs in more than 120 countries, including the United States. We aim to inspire breakthroughs in the way the world treats children, and to achieve immediate and lasting change in their lives by improving their health, education and economic opportunities. In times of acute crisis, we mobilize rapid assistance to help children recover from the effects of war, conflict and natural disasters. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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