With 70% of the world’s population expected to live in cities within the next 30 years, putting children’s rights at the centre of the urban agenda and engaging their views and participation in designing the cities they will live in, has never been more important.
This is the message that Dr Norman Gillespie, Chief Executive of UNICEF Australia, presented at this year’s de Lissa Oration, held at the University of South Australia, in respect of children’s rights, UNICEF’s international Child Friendly Cities program and the Child Friendly SA (CFSA) initiative.
The Child Friendly SA (CFSA) initiative has been piloted by three council areas in South Australia and the oration will celebrate the formal recognition of those councils: Campbelltown, Gawler and CFSA Onkaparinga as the first UNICEF Australia Child Friendly Cities in Australia.
Dr Gillespie says the Child Friendly City Initiative supports and recognises local councils which work toward strengthening and promoting the rights of children.
“The major trend towards rapid urbanisation requires that we build safe, sustainable cities but it is important that urban planners and policy makers know how to listen to children and engage their views in the design of these cities, they can add value to their environment,” Dr Gillespie says.
Having visited several new cities in China, Dr Gillespie witnessed a trend which finds many children adorning plastic flowers and plastic vegetables on their heads. Media speculation suggests this is one way young people are making a quiet statement about the heavily smog-filled environment in cities including Beijing, by showing, in an unusual way, their appreciation of and want for nature.
“Listening to what children want is enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the rights of the child,” Dr Gillespie says.
“The pilot projects in South Australia provide a thoroughly methodical approach in how children’s views are canvassed and how they are engaged; community involvement, especially among children who are from refugee backgrounds, can also draw parents into these discussions.
“By encouraging children to draw, design and make models of what they want from urban environments, from the places they want to live in, it is clear they like an element of risk and adventure in those surroundings, which adults may not consider.”
Safety, education, health, belonging, active participation and play and leisure are among the community goals outlined by the pilot projects in respect of improving opportunities, experiences and outcomes for children.
The pilot projects’ approach for canvassing children’s views was rigorously informed by the research of the Children’s Voices Project, led by UniSA’s Professor Pauline Harris in the de Lissa Chair partnership with the Department of Education and Child Development (DECD).
This research informed the professional development workshops that Prof Harris provided for the pilot projects, along with the resource “Children’s voices: A principled framework for children and young people’s participation as valued and active citizens”, written by Prof Harris and DECD colleague Harry Manatakis.
(Source: University of South Australia)