“For the first time in history, the majority of the global population lives in urban centres. Of the 4 billion urban dwellers today, nearly a third of them are children. And it is estimated that by 2050, almost 70 per cent of the world’s children will live in urban areas,” these were some of the remarks made by Dr. Will Parks, UNICEF Iran Representative addressing Iran’s first National Conference on Child-Friendly Cities, organized jointly by the Ministry of Interior, Isfahan Municipality, and UNICEF Iran, in the city of Isfahan on 16 and 17 January 2019.
Dr. Parks continued: “Unless we improve our approach to urbanization, many of these children will reside in disadvantaged urban settings where their young potentialities will be diminished and as a result, national development will be weakened.”
An estimated 120 officials and decision-makers including municipal teams, business leaders, chambers of commerce and non-governmental organizations from 31 provinces of Iran attended this first national conference entitled “Children at the Heart of the City.”
Presenters at conference included international and national experts on Child-Friendly Cities with the presence of Ms. Louise Thivant, Child Friendly Cities Advisor, from UNICEF’s Fundraising and Partnership Division, Dr. Sebastian Sedlmayr from the German Committee for UNICEF and Dr. Wolfgang Dietz, Lord Mayor, city of Weil-am-Rhein.
Cities: Opportunity for children
UNICEF Iran’s Representative in his speech emphasized that cities can be the sources of solutions to, rather than the causes of, the problems urban children face: “…cities, small and large, are among the world’s strongest sources of growth and innovation, diversity and connectivity and can potentially provide great opportunities for children to live, learn and thrive.”
The conference was organized in line with a request to UNICEF from Iran’s Ministry of Interior to help create the Iranian Child-Friendly Cities Network across the country, building upon efforts made by several Municipalities such as Bam, Sari, Isfahan, and Tehran.
Children’s Voice, a Main Component of a Child Friendly City
Children were included in the execution of the Child Friendly City conference in Isfahan. A group of children acted as young media teams and covered the event through news writing, photography and interviewing the participants and speakers. A number of art and cultural pieces, including songs and music, emphasizing the conference theme were also presented and performed by children during the conference.
Sama Esmaili, a 12 year-old student from Isfahan said: “In my opinion a Child-Friendly City is one which prioritizes children. It is a city where a child, walking on the street, feels equal to adults, never feels discriminated against, and easily and safely plays. I believe the opinions of children about what they like should be asked.”
Ms Louise Thivant defined a Child-Friendly City as a city or community that is committed to implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child at the local level. “At the core,” she added: “it is a city or community which is committed to giving children a voice and considering their priorities and needs in local decision-making processes that affect their lives.”
Dr. Wolfgang Dietz, the mayor of a child-friendly city in Germany and one of the instructors in the conference, also highlighted the importance of collecting information from the public, especially children, as one of the primary steps in implementing the CFCI: “We had conversations in schools and in our youth centers to collect this information. Of course, the means of communication has changed, and you should decide on how to do it.”
During the Conference, Dr. Dietz shared his years long years of experiences and lessons learnt with his Iranian counterparts and other stakeholders.
Isfahan, on its way to receiving recognition as Iran’s first Child-Friendly City
In his opening remarks at the Conference, Dr. Ghodratollah Noroozi, Mayor of Isfahan, expressed his satisfaction with holding this conference in Isfahan and pledged that the city will do its best to observe children’s rights. “This is an investment towards sustainable development in the future,” he added.
Also, Dr. Seyed Ramezan Shojaee Kiasari, Deputy Minister of Interior for International Affairs, highlighted the importance of Iranian cities developing into child-friendly, smart and creative centers across the country: “We should provide children with a safe haven through creating vital spaces, children's parks, secure transportation, creative games, and also children's museums and libraries.”
The Child-Friendly Cities Initiative in Iran, as elsewhere, encourages local governments and other stakeholders to pay greater attention to meeting the needs of their youngest citizens, and ensuring the latter’s participation in local decision making.
UNICEF’s global Child-Friendly Cities Initiative supports municipal governments in realizing the rights of children at the local level using the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as its foundation.