Children in cities 

Bangladesh among 10 nations that top the list for rapid urbanisation


The challenge

By 2030, Dhaka will be the world’s sixth largest megacity 

As the world rapidly turns urban, Bangladesh is listed among countries that will soon contribute most to the global urban population.

Bangladesh, home to 160 million people, is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. The size of the urban population in Bangladesh is at 53 million. Of them, around 40 per cent are children.  

In 30 years, the number will more than double and 112 million people in Bangladesh will be living in cities.

Around 3.5 percent of the population migrate internally every year. There are two major drivers behind this reality.
People move to urban centres after losing village homes and livelihoods following disasters fuelled by climate change. They also come to the city seeking employments created by the rapid growth of the garment industry.
But life in the city is fraught with severe challenges.

A slum in Mirpur's Duwariparha

A large proportion of migrants from villages end up in urban slums. Dhaka city has more than 5,000 slums inhabited by an estimated four million people.

Around 75 per cent of slum households live in one room, as per the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) from 2013.

For children living in slum areas, life is difficult and often dangerous, with high rates of malnourishment, school dropout, child marriage, child labour and abuse. The situation of children in urban slums is much worse than in rural Bangladesh, as per data from the Child Well Being Survey 2016 and the MICS.

The slums lack basic infrastructure and services and are in the constant threat of eviction. Because these are usually situated in fragile low lying areas, the urban poor living in slums are highly vulnerable to natural disaster.

The Dhaka city, the main urban centre, already has limited land. Fast urbanisation is pressurising its already weak services and fragile environment. Children, adolescents and their families living in slums do not have the awareness, means and capacity to demand for services.

Water and air pollution from poor waste and traffic management poses serious health risks. Urban areas experiencing unregulated growth are at higher risk in the event of earthquakes and cyclones.

10-year-old Chumki works as a house maid and lives with her family in a single room at Dhaka's Jatrabari slum.

Around 75 per cent of slum households live in one room. 

Gender concerns are usually neglected in cities that are overcrowded and unplanned. Girls and boys experience urban life in different ways. Beyond the risks of violence, assault and harassment, women and girls often face discrimination in daily urban life.

For example, city transport systems do not adequately address the risks of sexual harassment faced by female commuters and many schools and workplaces may not offer separate toilets for women and girls.

The impact of rapid urbanisation on social behaviour is complex. As individuals and families struggle to settle down in unstable conditions, they are faced with a range of urban factors.

These can be in the form of employment uncertainty, inadequate social protection, rising living costs, high competition for services, densely populated living spaces and limited privacy.

Changes in relationships and family structures and loss of traditional support systems provide even more stress, eventually changing old norms and behaviours.

7-year-old Sushmita walks to school at Dhaka's Kafrul.

Beyond the risks of violence, assault and harassment, women and girls often face discrimination in daily urban life.

The solution

UNICEF supports the govt for better planning and resource management

The growing numbers of the urban poor without access to basic services provides a compelling case for UNICEF to strategically engage in urban programming for children.

It advocates for decentralisation of authority, power, fund to city corporations and municipalities and for effective plans and resources to empower the local level elected representatives.  

A clear structure of accountability can improve the state of affairs in Bangladesh’s urban areas. UNICEF advocates various government ministries to ensure investments for urban children in policies.

At UNICEF, the urban programme brings together all arenas of effort -- from health to social policy –- identifying and addressing urgent needs at every stage of a child’s life.

মিরপুর বস্তির একটি স্বাস্থ কেন্দ্রে ওজন নেওয়া হচ্ছে ৪ মাসের সাদিয়ার।

Age 0 - five: The priorities are health, nutrition, early childhood care and prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. UNICEF trains immunisation workers to remind parent about registering their child's birth. It supports nutrition services in health facilities and workplaces. UNICEF advocates for more daycare and early learning centres in urban poor communities. UNICEF also pilots safe water and hygiene services for slums.



করাইল বস্তির একটি ক্লাসরুমে শিক্ষার্থীরা

Age 6 to 10: UNICEF supports second chance education services and prevention of child marriage and child labour. It supports the government and the judiciary for a justice system that is responsive to the needs of children.

ইউনিসেফের সাহায্যে পরিচালিত একটি কিশোর-কিশোরী ক্লাব।

Age 11 to 18 years: UNICEF brings together adolescent health and nutrition services including menstrual hygiene management and HIV at health facilities and community. UNICEF will support government in modelling of adolescent empowerment package and promotion of adolescents as agents of change.

UNICEF believes in developing practical methods for incorporating gender equity and child rights in urban policymaking. It supports data systems and diverse studies for monitoring and planning purposes and to identify gender barriers related to safety, lack of mobility, limited access to quality services and knowledge.

UNICEF advocates the government for mainstreaming climate change related strategies and action plans in the Local Government ministry’s national urban programme.

Building the capacity of local government bodies is one of the key components of the government’s urban programme, which UNICEF believes will to lead to successful Child Friendly City initiatives.

City Corporations or municipalities through city, zone and ward level structure are responsible for bottle neck analysis, local level planning, monitoring and strengthening convergence and inter sectoral coordination.

A community health worker talks to mothers at a garment factory in Dhaka

UNICEF develops partnerships across a wide spectrum of stakeholders for urban children.

Considering the role of the garment sector in Bangladesh’s urbanisation, UNICEF built partnerships with the garment industry based on ‘Child Rights and Business Principles’ for fund raising as well as for implementing factory based intervention packages.

Civic engagement and community participation are critical for creating a child-friendly urban environment and better interface between citizens and city government. UNICEF considers the role of child and adolescent participation as critical, given that a large segment of the urban population are young girls and boys.

UNICEF supports city government to strengthen civic engagement and community participation by building capacity of Community Development Committees and Slum Development Committees, so that members of communities can voice concerns, demand and make use of social services, abandon harmful social norms and practices, and adopt key household behaviours essential to health and social well-being.