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Child Friendly Cities in Africa – 1997
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Child Friendly Cities in Africa – 1997

Ladislau Dowbor
Originalmente publicado

A study of practical measures local administrations can take to face the problem of children, and particularly of children at risk. The paper was published jointly by Unicef, Habitat, Undp, Unep, Unesco and the Urban Management Programme (UMP), as a report of the Accra Workshop on Child Friendly Cities. (L.Dowbor)

International Workshop on Africa’s Poor Child –
Towards African Child-Friendly Cities

Unicef – Ama – Unchs/Habitat – UMP – Undp – Unep – Unesco – Plan International


Accra, 11-13 March 1997

Workshop participants benefitted from the insights and perspective of Ladislau Dowbor, a world-respected expert on programmes to benefit children and the role and potential of government initiatives. Dr. Dowbor has worked extensively in South America, and Brazil in particular, and has helped local governments there play a more active role in the betterment of life for children and marginalized urban families. He argues in his presentation that we are“building modernity at the expense of the weakest” and explores the ways that municipal governments must put children on the municipal agenda.

As a concrete illustration of Prof. Dowbor’s eloquent speech, Ana Maria Wilhelm, from the Abrinq Foundation, presented a case study of an innovative approach for private sector funding and support of programmes that improve child well-being in cities and towns in Brazil. A summary of her comments follows Dr. Dowbor’s speech. A set of guidelines to consider while constructing child-friendly cities are also included.

The Role and Expectations of Municipal Authorities
for Child Protection Issues by Dr. Ladislau Dowbor

Professor, Pontificia Universidade Catolica de São Paulo, Brazil

The Brazilian Experience
(Published in the Workshop Final report, vol. II, pages 33 to 55, U.N., New York 1997)

The issue that brings us together is very simple. In different parts of the world, city managers, councillors, NGOs, educators, entrepreneurs, journalists — a real variety of advocates — are joining efforts to promote the condition of children. Tired of waiting for the slow motion of central governments, mayors are rolling up their sleeves and organizing their municipalities with the concrete objective of ensuring that no child will be out of school, or go hungry, or be humiliated and exploited. And experience is showing that at the local level, where people know each other, policies can be integrated and organized to solve practical issues. We have learned that action is possible and depends more on political will and sound management than on big money.

Brazil has earned a sad reputation. Income concentration in the hands of rich families is the highest in the world, according to World Bank figures. The number of child prostitutes is estimated at half a million; children are used on a large-scale to distribute drugs, with the justification that they present less risks. Large scale unemployment is pushing parents to send children to the streets to earn money. Some agencies try to take children off the streets by finding them jobs, while other agencies fine businesses for employing children. Caught in the contradictory movements of globalization and technological modernity, poor children seek to survive individually or in gangs, bringing a new feeling of fear to our cities, a fear of children. The practical result is that the murdering of children huddled at night under bridges or church porches has gradually entered the culture of normal middle-class people. Frequently people pay retired policemen to do this job, that is, when active police forces do not take the initiative.

The daily tragedies these children face are not rooted in the past. Important American and European tourism agencies currently organize child-sex tours to Manaus, Recife, Rio and other cities; drug peddling belongs to a now modern international industry, with important banks participating in money laundering; unemployment and rural exodus are directly linked to the global economy. The absence of a family environment frequently results from the erosion of the extended family with its natural solidarity, or simply from the fact that both parents have to work and are absent. It is a fact that we are building modernity at the expense of the weakest. Traditional security nets have disappeared, and new support systems have not yet been created.

To expect market forces to protect children’s rights is not realistic. But it is also true that our traditional way of coping with the problem — through heavy and centralized bureaucracies — is not working, making it difficult to defend past attempts that have been implemented.

Africa, like the Latin American region, is also a victim of this perverse modernization. It is not difficult to imagine what African cities will be like in a short time, when the urbanization, currently estimated at about one third of the population, reaches the Brazilian figures of 75 to 80%.

Surprisingly, Brazil also has much to share. The very drama of the situation of Brazilian vulnerable children, and the lack of corresponding central government policies, have led to a strong reaction of the civil society. One important action has been advocating for the approval of advanced legislation concerning children, the Estatuto da Crianca e do Adolescente (ECA),the main legal instrument for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Based on these legal guidelines, a number of mayors throughout the country have been implementing integrated policies and are obtaining exceptional results, especially considering Brazil’s difficult macroeconomic situation.

Brazil presently has 160 million inhabitants in 5,000 municipalities, ranging from the huge São Paulo to tiny rural centres. Quite often, these municipalities are managed in the interest of the traditional alliance between contractors, land speculators and corrupt politicians. But a few hundred municipalities, including large cities like Porto Alegre, Brasilia, Belo Horizonte and others, have launched comprehensive and integrated policies to change the situation of their poor children. We have learned in Brazil that if there is political will, local action can be very powerful. We have also learned that innovative social and institutional solutions can be more important than money. And most of all, we have learned that it is not a question of a mayor carrying the piano by himself: he must become a kind of conductor, creating a new culture in his city, finding the right place for everyone to contribute. After all, the issue of children is an issue that touches everyone.

The challenge for mayors is particularly difficult: the rapid urbanization, against a general background of widening economic gaps, means that they are in the front line, having to face a growing web of explosive social, economic and infrastructure problems with limited means. In other words, they are first to contend with the problems, but are on the lowest rung of government, the last to have access to the corresponding means.

On the other hand, crisis can also be seen as opportunity. People in local space can be better organized to participate, new technologies can bring new solutions, and local administrators know their problems and the necessary responses much better than distant bureaucracies. This is of paramount importance for policies related to children, as they usually depend on a great number of different and finely tuned actions, frequently coming down to individual problems where direct knowledge and local decisions are essential.

Upgrading the Institutions

At the global level, the heavyweights of the world politics are pushing structural adjustments for the world economy. It is time for mayors to take up the banner of a social adjustment for children. Decades of standard general policies have made their limitations apparent.Programmes must be closely tailored to the different local needs, supported by institutions that seek synergies and flexibility through practical coordination of actions.This result-oriented approach is better supported by networks with intense information and communication flows, than by the traditional multi-layer pyramid of decisions. Improving the “muscle”of local institutions to deal with the problems of children implies a diversified set of actions.

Organizing participatory communities: Hundreds of ill-fated “parachutes” or top-down projects have taught us that the main condition for a programme to work is that the interested community “owns” the programme and is deeply identified with its goals. No one really likes to feel “assisted” or to receive help as a sort of diploma of personal incapacity. Hundreds of successful experiences, ranging from participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre to temporary reintegration programmes in Santos, show how much more productive the programmes can be, when the interested communities take them over. This implies ensuring that community organization and participatory policies are at the centre of the institutional approach.

Enlisting NGOs: Community-based organizations (CBOs) and NGOs are becoming more and more important. The 1993 Human Development Report estimates that NGOs “touched” 100 million people in the early 1980s, and about 250 million today, channelling over 7 billion dollars to programmes concentrated to tackle poverty, providing credit to the poor, empowering marginal groups, challenging gender discrimination, protecting children and delivering emergency relief. In this mushrooming environment of new organizations, evaluation of their performance varies and improved quality controls must be implemented. Furthermore, NGOs cannot substitute for government initiatives. Clearly there exists the need for solid coordination and networking with NGOs, taking advantage of their low overhead costs and volunteer spirit. All this can help make government programmes much more effective.

Organizing social actors: concerned local administrations in Brazil are creating “conselhos da criança e do adolescente”, a kind of municipal forum where different stakeholders can get together, coordinate initiatives, and generate consensus on key problems of municipal policies for children. The forums include representatives of business, unions, community organizations, non-governmental organizations, research centres and the various levels of government present in the municipality in order to ensure that management be more participatory. Successful examples of local policies for children show more than anything a great capacity for social integration, in setting up flexible systems of partnership at various levels. Presently in Brazil, the central government gives preference to municipalities which have such coordination schemes when deciding on the use of social funds.

Intergovernmental coordination: Local, provincial and central government administrations, as well as para-statal and para-municipal companies, frequently coexist as different layers of government action within a single municipality, with little coordination and often overlapping functions, producing confusion where there should be synergies. It is frequent for a municipality to have 30 or 40% of local public servants who do not respond, or do not even report their activities to the Mayor. The problem is particularly acute in metropolitan regions.Organizing joint, result-oriented programmes, with permanent coordination and flow of information between the institutions, can produce a very significant improvement in productivity of programmes for children. An important initiative has been the decentralization of health services, which means that the municipalities are in charge, through the so-called SUDS (Servicios Urbanos de Sociedad) initiative, and receive the corresponding funds provided they can ensure oversight by a local health council. In the area of education, government funds are presently directly transferred to school boards, instead of being negotiated through endless political levels of decision: thus the different rungs of administration existing in the municipality have to sit down with school councils and coordinate their actions.

Inter-municipal programmes: While the traditional attitude is that when a problem reaches beyond a municipality it should be discussed further up, with provincial or central government authorities, it now becomes clear that inter-municipal cooperation and coordination can produce impressive results. Brazilian inter-municipal consortia, for example, have shown how horizontal coordination of health programmes, with optimization of the use of the different infrastructures or other facilities in a group of municipalities can be productive. Horizontal coordination has also been very useful for environment programmes, such as sanitation. But we also have negative examples, like the municipality of São Paulo, which has been dumping truckloads of children in neighbouring cities during the night, “solving” their problems by generating more problems for everybody, and at the expense of more suffering to the children.

Decentralized cooperation: Traditional forms of official development aid, when not directly oriented or strongly anchored to local organizations, have been ineffective. Most multilateral or bilateral agencies are still very shy in their efforts to bring relief directly to the concerned populations. A great part of aid flows fail to reach the people who need them. Agreements between cities, with specific covenants for children’s support programmes, can be very effective. Bilateral government programmes should channel aid in a way that insures it reaches those most in need, including through local governments. Channelling funds through NGOs has also been very productive and should be stimulated. Direct multilateral funding to municipalities should be supported, linked to the creation of broad-based city councils for the defence of children or other mechanisms in the recipient cities. Multilateral and bilateral agencies could give a very strong contribution to the development of decentralized cooperation. In Brazil such actions are still very weak, as the prevailing systems are centred on the funding of big central government projects.

Mayors’ experience sharing network: Communication flows and exchange of experiences have been very ineffective and costly among municipal administrations. Several international networks of cities, such as IULA, ICLEI, FMCU and others on national level, have been developing networks to stimulate communications and improve the effectiveness of information sharing among Mayors. The creation of a permanent computer based conference of UNICEF’s Mayors Defenders of Children is an example of a possible area of information exchange, taking advantage of extremely inexpensive and flexible new instruments of communication. UNICEF and other agencies, with their existing international Child-Friendly Cities Network could be of great help in this area. Another simple initiative would be for a South-South exchange of leaders. For example, Brazil could receive African municipal technicians for six-months or longer to instruct them on the programmes in their municipalities, thus providing an opportunity for gaining direct knowledge of these new experiences, with both their advantages and difficulties as part of the lesson.

These and other actions can be seen as a general trend towards updated forms of local management for children. The options will certainly be different in the various institutional environments, but we share the common commitment to the re-thinking our institutions to make them more effective.


In face of the great variety of social, economic and institutional situations in municipalities throughout the world, there are no recipes with universal validity. On the other hand, some general orientations have given good results and need to be shared.

The principle of decentralization: Except under clearly-defined circumstances where they must be taken at higher levels in the pyramid of administration, decisions should be taken at the closest possible level to the population involved. We refer here to real decision-making capacity, with decentralization of resources and authority. This principle of “closeness” is essential for actions in the social area, that must ultimately reach individuals and families. This does not mean giving central government “longer arms” by opening local offices, but letting the empowered communities effectively administer activities.

Empowerment: We are dealing with citizens caught in the turmoil of chaotic modernization and our action is not a question of assistance but of rights. Poverty, more than a loss of things, is a loss of the right to options. The Convention on the Rights of the Child gives us a conceptual and ethical framework to work within. Helping people to understand this approach and take hold of it, for example in training municipal work-teams to respect the poor and destitute is our challenge. This challenge is not only an ethical obligation, but a key factor for the success of policies for children. The programmes should thus be planned not only according to their specific technical effectiveness, but according to their capacity to enable people to take charge of their own progress.

Mutually reinforcing actions: Communities think of their development as an integrated process, and not as the sum of separate sectoral initiatives. This does not mean that specialized sectoral actions should cease to exist, but that their efficiency should be improved by integration at the local level. The Urban Basic Services (UBS) program can thus become a major instrument for the implementation of mutually reinforcing actions, inter-sectoral convergence and community organization.

Women’s role: Local policies for children cannot be dissociated from women’s role in the process. One important reason is that families headed by women with children frequently represent the most critical area of poverty and destitution. Moreover, women are more directly concerned with practical results in terms of children’s welfare; associating them with the programmes’ management improves overall effectiveness. Finally, organizing mothers in solidarity networks and enabling their access to positions of power in local governance promotes badly needed gender equality.

Result-oriented management: However obvious it might seem to insist on results, the fact is that public institutions, and many private ones for that matter, frequently tend to obey bureaucratic logic. There are countless examples of organizations formally dedicated to social policy, that follow absurd routines of institutional survival. There is a need for clear indicators of productivity, direct involvement of the concerned communities interested in the results, rotation of staff between bureaucratic responsibility and field work, external cross evaluation of the institutions’ effectiveness, organization of the institutions or programmes around clearly formulated final results. These and other measures can be taken to make sure the different organized structures respond to social objectives and not to their own interests.

Importance of communication: However understandable it is for serious social workers to avoid publicity and political use of their activity, the fact is that communication in its various forms is essential for the social acceptance and support of local policies for children. The focus must be not only on changing the conditions of the children, but also promoting change in the deep-rooted prejudice that permeates most of our societies. Communication, information and advocacy must become a permanent activity and an important part of every programme. The city of Santos created a Radio Muleke experience: a partnership between the municipality and Radio Jovem Pan allowed for the creation of a one-hour weekly program belonging to and managed by street children, generating a more tolerant culture in the city.

Simplifying regulations: All those with direct experience of municipal administration know how fantastically intricate regulations and administrative legislation may be. A recent study of the United States government concludes that in order to avoid the theft of public money the legal framework has become so complex that it is virtually impossible to use the money productively. Municipal administrations are particularly vulnerable to this problem, since they must wring their funds from the most varied institutions, and respond to different levels of controls, while their power to change or to go around regulations is limited. This legal framework is usually completely outdated by modern management techniques, and in any case seldom allows rapid and flexible response to the difficulties of the poor. In Brazil, in order tocreate a more user-friendly regulation environment, special participatory committees of local respected figures have been formed to oversee the approval of special emergency procedures and to simplify legislation and regulations.

Participatory controls: Controlling what happens with the funds and the results are cumbersome but necessary tasks which must be faced. Transparency is essential both for the effectiveness of the programmes and their political credibility. At the national level, there is little choice but to rely on regulations, controllers and heavy paperwork. In municipal management, on the other hand, where programmes are applied through organizations where people frequently know each other, formal bureaucratic controls may be substituted by participatory management. When a programme is overlooked by a group of prominent citizens of quite different origins, it will be very difficult to coopt everyone into illegitimate initiatives. When the community organizations interested in the result of the programmes participate directly in drawing them up and in managing them, a large degree of transparency becomes inevitable. In any case, participatory controls that do not exclude external specialized expertise, tend to be more effective than bureaucratic regulation and the inevitable inspectors.

Organizing information: The poor level of organized information is the rule, not the exception, in municipalities, and hence at more aggregate levels. A major effort has to be made in this area. The traditional structure of a “central information bank” is giving place to flexible network systems that allow permanent updating and systematic use by all the social actors of the municipality. New technologies combined with a participatory philosophy of policies for children, can thus allow Mayors and organized communities to make their decisions with a much better understanding of the overall situation in the municipality and permanent follow-up of specific actions. Well-organized information is also essential to enable the city authorities to better inform the population on the situation of children, increasing the effectiveness of communications programs. A city councillor in São Paulo, Aldaiza Sposati, created a Map of Social Exclusion, which represents an interesting methodology to map key social problems at the action levelCity Indicators of Life Quality is another methodology being developed in Belo Horizonte and other municipalities.

Technical and political authority: Although little discussed, the definition of the specialist’s place in a world of growing technical complexity, is essential for implementing programmes. The lure of technology is very real and must be openly faced and its role in development understood. The community-owned health district approach, for example, relies on health committees chosen by the community, that decide what the priorities should be, while the municipal staff presents the necessary technical data for their decisions. This new balance between administration, technical evaluation and the community’s goals is essential for the empowerment of communities, and for the sustainability and long range effects of the programmes. A good example is the health district experience in São Paulo, where a commission of local residents coordinated health initiatives in a small district: more familiar with their own health problems, the inhabitants favoured sanitation initiatives over the traditional building of health centres, and once organized other initiatives were facilitated.

Training: There is little doubt that serious policies in the defence of children depend not only on adequate technical solutions, but on a new approach that frequently implies cultural change. The narrow technical training approach should thus be revised, in favour of understanding thatall the social actors who participate in the defence of children in the municipality should be permanently learning: from each other, from other municipalities, from the communities. Training programmes should be directly linked to the organization of municipal information, and to communications programmes. Direct participation of communities in the definition of the training curricula has shown impressive results: people know what they want to learn about, and a user-oriented approach is essential. But most of all, training programs should cease being a short final chapter in the definition of programmes, and become a central part of them. In the Brazilian experience, bringing together people who work on the same problems in different municipalities has shown to be a simple and very productive methodology.

Though each of these strategies holds individual importance depending on a variety of situations, we can be encouraged by the fact that decentralization, participation, networking, rich flows of information and other modifications in the way we organize our actions are leading to more democratic and transparent environments.

Key Areas of Action

The issues we confront usually stem from a chain of interdependent causes, not from just one problem. They have become systems, and our societies have become accustomed to them. It is thus necessary to promote policies that are based on an effective understanding of how the problems have become interlocked. This means the process has to be led by the communities that experience the problems, and although the national level of decision should certainly determine the general goals in the different sectors, such as health, education and others, and provide the necessary means, implementation has to be local and integrated.

At the local level the spiral takes different forms. For example, in São Paulo the large-scale impermeabilization of the land surface is leading to frequent floods. Urban land in frequently flooded areas is cheap, and attracts the poor. The areas where water concentrates are thus clogged with shacks, and the streams become dumps for solid waste. We thus have the highest demographic concentration in the most inappropriate areas, where the rain water mixes with sewage, leading to dramatic health problems, which in turn lead to schooling and employment problems and so forth. Every Mayor can provide an example, or a number of them, of how the problems interlock in the different situations in their municipality.

An important integrated approach is the Urban Basic Services initiative, since basic services such as water, sanitation, solid waste disposal and others are essential to the conditions of children. UBS strategies rest on area based, mutually reinforcing multisectorial interventions based on the principles of community organization, participation and empowerment. UBS strategies also support the convergence and complementarity of services; low cost, cost-effective solutions; and on the identification of operational units for programme planning and implementation. More mayors are now feeling the importance of integrating, or at least coordinating, the different initiatives like Urban Basic Services, Local Plans of Action for children, Local Agenda 21, and Local Plans of Action for HABITAT II.Integrated efforts imply that communities should be able to adequately combine the different actions according to specific situations. This focus complements the traditional sectorial approach.

On the other hand, actions that may not seem essential can prove to have a strong mobilizing effect on the community, thus opening political space for other initiatives. In Santos, cleaning up the polluted beaches restored confidence in the city, brought back tourism and economic activity, reduced unemployment, created a new culture of concern for the environment, social promotion and the quality of life. In Porto Alegre and other cities, submitting the budget for community input and control and sticking to the decisions made has led to a strong participatory culture, which in turn has made social programs much easier to promote.

The city of Campinas changed the local law so as to include child malnutrition on the list of social calamities, demanding urgent preventive action of the same level as, for example, an outbreak of cholera: action concerning children at risk thus gained a legal fast-track enabling it to by-pass traditional bureaucratic procedures. Following the example of some African countries, the public servants’ maternity ward in São Paulo gives the new mother a small tree, to be planted at home or in a public park, thus linking symbolically the growth of her child with nature in general, and environmental concern. Such actions depend very much on local symbolism, political climate, and social momentum. Actions that catch people’s imagination become political forces, catalysts of other essential actions.

It is important to stress that in our experience with local policies for children, we found there are no miraculous or quick solutions, but diversified and long-reaching policies that reach that capillary level and are sustained over enough time so they become permanent. They are actually changes in culture, not just improvements in material conditions.

Moreover, each child is an individual: excessively overarching policies to reach “categories”, that do not pay attention to individual problems, do not have good results. In the last instance, a child captured by the machinery of prostitution or drugs, who is a victim of labour exploitation or has been abandoned by her or his parents, generates a set of problems and values that require specific solutions. As a result, policies can be organized according to type of problem, but action goes through the capillaries of the body politic, reaching individuals, groups and the community.

Children have to feel they are active in the process, not “helped” in the traditional sense. The process of rebuilding self-esteem and reconstructing ways of relating to life and social transformation require conscious attitudes. Children must be active participants in processes of change and have a chance to evaluate and criticize the process/programme in place.

Health: As these last years have shown, solid preventive action in the health sector can produce dramatic improvements in the situation of children. Particular emphasis should be given to such low-cost and high-impact actions as immunization programmes, oral rehydration therapy (ORT), iodization of salt, vitamin A and breastfeeding support. Also, maximizing the use of school space is an effective point of intervention since it brings children together every day and can be a powerful channel for other types of activities. Impressive reductions of tooth decay have been reached in Brazil through supervised brushing and fluoride mouthwashes in the municipal and state school system. Such actions obviously benefit from national campaigns and general support, however, they depend mostly on local organizational capacity, particularly to reach the very poor, and the hard-core of destitute populations. Policies that must ultimately reach every family, every mother and every child, cannot depend on huge national bureaucracies. Only local organizations can manage to have precise mapping and updated information on each different situation, and respond flexibly to change.

Nutrition: Nutrition programmes depend heavily on targeting capacity. In the Brazilian case, the school feeding programs have achieved excellent results by combining national legislation and orientation with local flexible management of the programmes. Reaching the very poor is particularly difficult, since they do not regularly get in touch with the capillary structures of health and education. Here again, municipal structures are essential, since only local organizations can adjust the policies to individual situations. Anchoring international food aid programmes directly to municipalities could thus strongly improve their effectiveness. And local organizations can work best if at the national level there is a support campaign to make people aware of the need to help.

Water and sanitation: Because so many of the poor tend to be pushed out to areas where infrastructure is practically non-existent, water and sanitation programmes are essential for poor children. On the other hand, the water issue is becoming a critical one worldwide. In Brazil, as in other places, water is becoming a lucrative business and a social drama. Water and sanitation are typical areas where local management has to be combined with inter-municipal policies and with specific solutions like watershed management systems.

Education: This is another area where local initiative can be essential. No complex bureaucracy is better than the simple interest of parents and the community in improving their children’s chances, and they should be a part of education management and control. New technologies, on the other hand, can open important prospects for a broader understanding of education, involving television, videos and other techniques that are growing more affordable.Community education, if effectively owned by the community, can become a powerful instrument for the promotion of children. Once again, the municipalities know local realities, and can respond with finely tuned policies to the different needs. The area presents opportunities for partnerships between the local administration, business, NGOs and regional scientific institutions.

Urban-rural relation: Humanity has a rural history, however, we are practically becoming urban societies in this century. Rural chaos, stemming from different causes in Africa, Asia or Latin America, has shifted populations by the billions. Though the situations are very different, we must reincorporate the rural component of modernity in innovative ways. The rural dimension of our existence will have to be rebuilt from the cities, starting with the development and protection of green belts that improve food and employment. We must also include the rural component of leisure that cities lack so much, and the restoration of the urban-rural environment nexus among others.

Employment: People are frequently unable to survive any longer in the rural areas, and the recent technological innovations are presently rationalizing services and manufacturing. Thus, many who have precariously settled in the urban peripheries, displaced from agriculture, are now feeling the backlash of economic modernity as the urban employment base shrinks. This problem is felt throughout the world, but poor cities face simultaneously the weight of poverty and the costs of modernity. In the present structures, a person without a job simply does not belong, and in a way ceases to be a citizen. With the structural transformation of employment, we must recover the capacity of community organization to absorb people socially in different ways. Considering the world employment trends, this is a problem that must be confronted in innovative ways, and with a long term perspective. It is important to remember that there are so many things to be done in our municipalities, and so many idle hands, therefore, the problem is essentially one of social organization.

Especially difficult situations and attention to the most vulnerable: millions of children are trapped in sweatshops, submitted to prostitution and to violent police repression or even death squads. Street children have become a major problem because of the recent chaotic urbanization process. There are no one-sided technical solutions for these problems. It is up to the mayors to lead the struggle, knowing that we face deep rooted prejudice and systems of economic exploitation that will only change with a new ethos, a new respect for the human being. Many municipalities in Brazil give a small stipend to families in exchange for ensuring they keep their children in school: typically, such an initiative depends on very fine tuned knowledge of different situations, and is most productive on the local level.

Getting Organized

No two cities are the same. But some basic, common guidelines are possible, and are presented here as a kind of check list of local action concerning children.

1 – The first recommended action is to create a permanent Child Policy Coordination Teamglobally in charge of the issues related to children’s welfare. Much of the lack of progress in the area of children’s rights and needs is due to the fact that children are everybody’s business, but no one’s exclusive business. Also, it is not enough to have people in charge of child health, or schooling and other sectoral concerns. The overall results for children must be followed by a permanent executive team directly linked to the mayor and exclusively devoted to this task.

2 – The second point is that the city must create a Municipal Council for Children, permitting the participation of all the important institutions in charge of sectoral policies for children, such as health, education, environment and others. The council must also ensure the participation of the different levels of government, such as local representatives of central or provincial governments. The presence of concerned NGOs and CBOs is also essential, as well as key social actors of the city: unions, businesses, universities and so on. While the Child Policy Coordination Team is a small and action oriented executive group, the Municipal Council exists to make sure the actions gain strength in the city, influence culture, and ultimately sway the way cities relate to their children.

3 – The third point is to create a detailed map of social exclusion in the city. It is known thatproblems with children are a result of more general mechanisms of exclusion involving poor families. The mapping must include income, employment, access to urban land and safe water, and other information, and form a part of existing statistics and descriptive material. The purpose is to organize existing information, and to gradually improve it with additional data.The map of social exclusion, besides being a crucial instrument for organized action, becomes a kind of a mirror where the local society can have a detailed spatial picture (area-based) of its own realities, improving the political conditions for the defence of children.

4 – The fourth point is to organize the reference indicators concerning the children of the city. These reference indicators tend to become a systematic instrument for the measure of social productivity, and the effectiveness of the adopted policies over time, besides permitting a first approach to comparison between cities.

Recommended reference indicators are:

infant mortality rate

: annual number of deaths of infants under one year of age per 1,000 live birthsimmunization: the average vaccination coverage of children under one year of age for the antigens used in the Universal Child Immunization (UCI) programme.

underweight (moderate and severe child malnutrition): the percentage of children under the age of five, below minus two standard deviations from the median weight-for-age of the reference population.

maternal mortality rate: the annual number of deaths of women from pregnancy related causes per 100.000 live births;

enrollment ratio: number of students enrolled in a level of education belonging to the relevant age group, as a percentage of the population in that age group;

primary school completion rate: proportion of the children entering the first grade of primary school who successfully complete that level in due course;

female years of schooling: male figures are indexed to equal 100, and figures for females are expressed in relation to males;

safe water access: the percentage of the population with reasonable access to safe water supply, including treated surface waters, or untreated but uncontaminated water such as that from springs, sanitary wells and protected boreholes;

sanitation access: the percentage of the population with reasonable access to sanitary means of excreta and waste disposal, including outdoor latrines and composting;

dangerous dwellings: percentage of children living in low-income housing built in polluted areas, such as around solid waste dumps, besides open drains and sewers or near industrial districts with high levels of pollution.


5 – The fifth point is to define the specific goals

 to be attained by the different sectoral institutions in charge of the policies concerning children. Goals will differ in importance according to the city. A practical line of action is to start with the specific goals defined at the World Summit for Children, and to organize them according to the local priorities. The key actions can be grouped in the areas of environment, nutrition, health, education, income generation, protection and social integration.The following should be considered as a check-list for main specific goals follow-up:


access to safe water  

access to sanitation  

protection from pollution hazards  

existence of green areas  

access to sports and recreation areas  

primary environmental care (PEC) programmeNutrition

Protein-Energy Malnutrition (PEM) planning  

specific deficiencies programmes  

school feeding programmes  

critical poverty programmes  

percentage of low-weight birth babies follow up  

Iodine Deficiency Disorders (IDD) reduction  

Vitamin A deficiency reduction  

Iron Deficiency Anaemia (IDA) reductionHealth

breast-feeding, implementation of the baby-friendly hospital initiative  

universal immunization programmes  

polio eradication  

measles control  

Neonatal Tetanus control  


Pneumonia (acute respiratory infections)  


Maternal mortality  

percentage of births attended by trained health personnel  

percentage of pregnant women receiving prenatal care  

health service access  

ORT access ratio  

AIDS special programmesEducation

adult literacy  

female literacy  

enrolment ratio  

reduction in the number of children not in primary school  

primary school completion rate  

transition from first to second-level education improvement  

reduction of school abandonment  

early child development support  

technical school enrollmentIncome Generation

child work control programme  

placement programmes  

sheltered workshops  

income safety nets programmesProtection

legal child protections/juvenile justice systems  

child prostitution protection programmes  

protection in armed conflicts programmes  

child involvement in crime follow up  

drug abuse control  

contingency planning for disaster  

child registration at birth programmeSocial Integration

family reintegration programmes  

early childhood development programmes  

cultural milieu respect and promotion  

minority language and media respect  

disabled child programmeCitizenship

implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child Programme  

freedom of child access to information  

children’s participation in the definition of child support programmes  

right to privacy respectThe definition of the key specific goals of the city should be accompanied by a clear definition of tasks for the concerned institutions, acknowledging responsibilities.6 – The sixth point is to make sure the city has a solid situation analysis of children in their city, permitting clear identification of the critical trends. Specific situations result from different sets of causes, be they water-related diseases, drug-related violence or other issues. A solid grouping of situations according to the causes not only paves the way for appropriate action, but usually contributes to a stronger focus on prevention, and a better coordination of intersectoral policy.

7 – The Child-Friendly City should also produce a detailed map of on-going initiatives.Although the different institutions usually have action follow-up routines for individual projects/programmes, the fact is that cities are usually uninformed of the global situation — on the “who-does-what” concerning children. Organized information is essential both for the coordination between institutions, and for the effective participation of the communities.

8 – The Child-Friendly City should also present a well structured and up-dated analysis of the situation of the funding of programmes related to the improvement of the situation of children. This implies the Child Policy Coordination Team, the Municipal Council for Children, the key concerned social actors and the community in general know the source of the funding (budget, local partnerships, central government, foreign funding) and where it goes. This simple instrument is of paramount importance to generate transparency within the administration and confidence in the community, in addition to stimulating permanent improvement of fund management.

9 – The Local Plan of Action (LPA), focussing on the implementation of the World Summit for Children Plan of Action, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Local Agenda 21, HABITAT Agenda, Mayors Defenders Children and other initiatives, is an essential instrument. However, so many plans have remained on paper. It is important to stress that a plan is a process, a permanent coordination instrument between the key social actors in order to reach specific goals, and not a written compilation of wishes.

10 – A yearly report on the situation of children, with a progress evaluation of ongoing actions is recommended. This would take the shape of a City Child Development Report, published every year, and would contain data on reference indicators, specific goals, situation analysis, evolution of the main projects, situation of funding, and implementation of the Local Plan of Action. Drawing up such a report is important because it strengthens coordination between the different institutions that deal with children.

Towards More Effective Municipal Administrations

As we have seen, municipalities are on the front line of the problems, but on the lowest rung of administrative decisions. The strong growth of the urbanization process is making their tasks bigger and more urgent every day. In the general modern trend towards democratization, decentralization and participatory management, municipal administrations have to struggle to improve their effectiveness.

This means that mayors, individually, and also through inter-municipal initiatives, have to improve the general quality of their work, so they are better equipped to promote the necessary policies for children.

By the sheer need to ensure effectiveness, the tasks are gradually passed from government to municipalities. Decentralization of funds and resources should be done in a corresponding manner. The differences around the world are enormous in this area. To give an example, Sweden spends 72% of its public funds at the local level of administration, so that decentralized action is covered by decentralized funds. This proportion can be compared to the 8% to 12% in many developing countries. Decentralizing funds frequently meets strong political resistance, but is essential for the development of local policies. Joint pressure by municipalities has brought good results in this area.

On the other hand, joint mayors’ action is necessary to increase central government funding of urban infrastructure. Rapid growth of the urban population through migration of poor people, leads to decapitalized urbanization, with a severe impact on health and the environment. Since the strength of large economic interests in lobbying central government is usually much greater than the political presence of the thousands of scattered social dramas, it is essential that Mayors, who face these problems directly, fight for more socially oriented investment.

Mayors should also have much more to say about macro-economic policies. Prevailing restrictions on subsidies to the urban poor as well as strict imposition of cost-recovery policies should be reconsidered. There is an urgent need to make sustainable human development and macro-economic policies compatible. Local governments that frequently pay the political and human costs of the adjustments, should have a greater presence both in the decisions and the formulation of compensatory policies. In fact, in areas like employment, it seems quite obvious that mayors should have a major part in discussing macro-economic policy.

Finally, central governments should adopt a much more flexible policy towards external relations of local governments. In the age of the “global village”, it is essential, as we have seen, for cities to learn from other cities of the world and to receive external funding without having to go through a tangle of intermediaries. Positive experiences have resulted from instances where funds were directly transferred to local governments or communities, and implementation has been ensured through partnerships between public, private and community areas. These experiences have shown that aid flows are ripe for a major management re-engineering effort.

In one way or another, what present trends show is that local space is coming of age, and by promoting such important initiatives such as the Child-Friendly Cities Network and the Mayors Defenders of Children, mayors and local authorities are paving the way for profound change towards more humane and more ethical development.

Possibilities of Partnerships Between CivilSociety & Government by Ana Maria WilhelmSuperintendent, Fundaçào Abrinq, Brazil (summary)Background:

The plight of poor urban children in Brazil represents one of the most visible and alarming contradictions of the “success” of robust economic growth, in a developing nation. Brazil has one of the highest Gross National Product (GNP) per capita in Latin America and possesses one of the largest industrial parks of the region. Yet, infant mortality, child labor, and school drop-out rates compare only to those of the least developed countries in the world. For many poor urban Brazilian children, economic development has resulted in severely limited prospects and limited opportunities for normal physical, intellectual and emotional development. These children represent a large, growing mass of individuals who are living at the margin of society.

The Abrinq Foundation for Children’s Rights is a private non-profit organization which is raising awareness amongst the Brazilian business community that such unjust contrasts ultimately threaten the country’s future development. Created by entrepreneurs of the Brazilian toy sector, The Foundation believes that it is necessary and possible to take immediate action to turn around this detrimental social situation and its negative economic and political consequences.

Programme Description:

The Abrinq Foundation promotes social and entrepreneurial engagement with the problems and issues faced by poor urban Brazilian children, and their solutions. Acknowledging that social problems stem from poor income distribution and are, therefore, problems caused by an economic system which creates disparity and injustices, their main objective is to promote the basic citizenship rights of children as defined by the International Convention on the Rights of Children (UN, 1989), the Brazilian Constitution (1988) and the law established on “Children and Adolescents Statute” (1990).

However, in order to elicit involvement and collaboration between government, the private sector and civil society to secure these rights for all Brazilian children, The Foundation concentrates attention on model programs which can demonstrate successful initiatives to integrate poor urban Brazialian children and adolescents into society. Through highlighting model programs, the Abrinq Foundation has been successful in stimulating new initiatives and creating important government partnerships in the health, educational and social welfare systems, with entrepreneurs, advertising agencies, and the media. Strategic areas include: Health and Nutrition; Education and Culture; Child Labor; Family and Community Life; and Human Rights Advocacy.

Accomplishments to date:

Reduction of Infant Mortality

– Developed a national homemade oral rehydrate informational campaign to combat infant dehydration (a main cause of infant mortality) through the distribution of brochures inside toy packages, a half million educational stickers, and one million measuring spoons (provided by toy manufactures free of charge).

– “Pre-Natal Care Is Life. Don’t Ignore This Responsibility.” Educational campaign supported by various professionals and corporations and promoted free of charge by television and radio networks, and by magazines and newspapers.

Integrating Abandoned and Neglected Children

– “Be A Guardian Angel. Bring A Child Into Your House And Help To Improve Society”. A successful advertising campaign promoting foster care carried out in three cities in Sao Paulo.

– Implemented Our Children, where individuals or companies financially “adopt” a child by paying a monthly fee and the Abrinq Foundation identifies organizations to care for more children with these additional resources, and volunteer directly with Community Based Organizations. 2,500 children in 44 organizations assisted. Community Based Organizations received technical and management training.


– Through Living Library, Citibank and The Abrinq Foundation collaborated to develop child reading skills, especially in low-income families, by donating 300-book preselected libraries and training reading education professionals in 80 children-oriented Community Based Organizations.

– Created a partnership with a large cosmetic company who created a new line of products to finance community projects that improve public school education. Used innovative marketing via employing a chain of 140,000 volunteer company Christmas card saleswoman. Company volunteers raised US$660,000 their first year and US$1,400,000 their second.

Political, Legal, and Private Sector Reform

– Child-Friendly Company. Diploma and seal of approval product sticker system established to fight child labor and to encourage companies to participate in the educational development and professional training of children. General population can select products and services from companies that do not exploit children. 300 companies have become Child-Friendly Companies.

– Mayor for Children. A project which has helped require that the public policies of health and education of The Brazilian Children and Adolescents statues remain an absolute priority for municipal administrations. Mayors sign a Commitment Letter, receive a Guide of Public Policies in Health and Education, a Children’s Map, and access the Mayor for Children Network. The Children’s Map identifies a mayor’s inherited municipal population, situation, and needs, and the changes to be promoted until the year 2000. Meeting set, specific goals allows each city to be subsequently recognized as a municipality in favor of childhood, and for mayors to be awarded for their achievements. The Mayor for Children Network fosters the progress of mayors in meeting these goals by providing a data bank, information and reference system, and assistance and counseling in several areas.



Guidelines for Municipal/Local Plans of Action for ChildrenDifferent cities and different situations demand different plans of action. The power of local plans of action is due precisely to their potential for flexibility, and their ability to implement unique responses to match unique situations. Successful implementation however may require an ability to execute certain fundamental steps or groups of actions. The guide-lines presented here should thus be regarded as different “chapters” or groups of actions that are usually necessary to the success of local plans of actions – however their order and relative importance will depend on each situation.

The following points have resulted from the discussion with the different delegations, particularly of the French speaking group. The key points are mentioned with examples presented to illustrate how some of these points were achieved.

Core team

A small dynamic group is necessary to start things rolling.

 In Rwanda we have seen examples of action committees organized at the communal level. In the city of Mundu, a four member committee was created with the participation of the mayor and the president of the local tribunal. In Pikine, Senegal, a Congress on children was organized and one result was the formation of a Guidance Committee which included 8 children and 5 adults.Identification of key partnersIt is necessary to identify the groups, institutions and persons we can rely on to promote the action. In Douala, for example, a survey was created which helped identify friendly NGO’s for collaborations. In Mauritania, one initiative used the associations of lawyers, architects and others to organize and identify support. In Kinshasa, a workshop was organized to identify possible partners.

MobilizationIt is essential to muster social forces and to create ” waves” around the initiatives. In Mauritania, 32 mayors drew up a Declaration of Nouakchott concerning child-friendly cities initiatives. In Benin, a Chart was drawn up to organize commitment. In Pikine the core team organized a number of actions in schools, sports clubs and other public facilities to make the initiative known.

DisseminationA variety of instruments may be used. In Kinshasa workshops and conferences in the divulgation of the CRC were organized and in Benin, parents have been sensitized to ILO initiatives. Children themselves can provide strong voices by which to draw world attention to children’s issues, especially when given media access. For example, on 15 December 1996, 2,147 television and radio stations from 154 countries and territories participated in the fifth annual International Children’s Day of Broadcasting (ICDB). Children worked as broadcasters, interviewed government leaders, participated in debates, appeared in game and quiz shows and music festivals, and helped raise funds for needy children.

Strategies and key actionsEvery city or region has different situations and the strategies will differ. Examples were given of action centered on girls working as maids in Abidjan, on scavenger children in Pikine, the resettlement of children in Kigali, and on under 10 child labour by the ILO.

Time horizonThe time horizon for planning differs, but it is essential to organize it. UNICEF in Benin works with a 5 year plan. In Mali they are concentrating on actions which can give short term results. In Rwanda, resettlement of children is an emergency, short term measure before reinsertion in families and schools can occur.

Studies and research: In order to gradually improve planning capacity, more light has to be shed on the problems of vulnerable children. Examples given were those of Zaire, where the UNICEF office drew up a study with the ministry of health, but have had difficulties reaching mayors. In Pikine they are drawing up a study to identify the quantity, age groups, and areas of work of children. In Mali a study is being done on the typology of vulnerable children.

Institutions and structuresInstitutions and structures represent a key issue for implementing the local plan of action. The examples given were those of Zaire with very weak municipal governments, of Benin which faces deep institutional problems of definition of roles and responsibilities, of Rwanda where it is difficult to bring NGO’s and other institutions together, and of Chad where coordination works well at the local level but not upwards.

EmploymentPeople must participate in the effort of developing their communities. In Benin, for example, they are starting cooperatives for women, so as to reinforce the capacity of families to reabsorb poor children. It is a key background action.

Technical support and trainingTechnical support and training is an essential component for developing plans at the local level. Developing formal and informal exchanges between Technical personnel in different municipalities offers great opportunities for vital knowledge building based on the concrete experiences of others. International organizations and NGO’s can help by promoting knowledge sharing between municipalities and by organizing local good practices and making the texts available for local training and discussion. Rwanda has been disseminating a technical guide.

Inertia and resistance to changeInertia and resistance to change should be studied and faced in an organized way. This permits centering efforts on main points of inertia. Examples are the institutional problems in Benin, the weak participation of municipal authorities, such as those found in Pikine, and the proclivity of international organizations which seldom deal directly with local authorities, etc.

LawsAre local laws, legislation concerning children, and the institutional environment, compatible with the CRC? In Mauritania an effort of adapting local laws to the CRC is under way, and in Abidjan they are working on a law to forbid domestic work under 15.

Resources and financeHow are vital issues of resources and finance evolving? Are there key issues to be faced, such as the budget decentralization, or having international organization directly fund municipalities?

Cultural issuesFor the implementation of plans it is essential to have a clear view of the power of culture and traditions. Examples were given of the different types of youth groups in Pikine, with very strong street cultures; the problem of the marabous in Mali who send children to the streets to collect money; and of blind people in Douala who use children as guides. Decentralization itself represents a key cultural issue. In Africa, many people expect things to be decided from above and thus find decentralization to be a new concept.

Role of the international institutionsHow can the role of institutions with different organization principles better fit local action?. International institutions still work in the vision of big vertical layers of bureaucracy, and not in terms of horizontal networking. One example of where this has begun to change is with UNICEF Mauritania which is directly supporting the work of mayors and has sponsored information exchanges and capacity-building exercises for local authorities to help address Children’s rights.

Cooperation between mayorsNetworking and cooperation between mayors can be essential to improve the effectiveness of planning and the joint use of resources. The Child-Friendly Cities initiative launched in Istanbul and furthered in Accra is an effort that can contribute to this process.

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