CHENNAI: With an urban population density of 14,350 per square kilometre, Chennai has overtaken Delhi as the third most dense city in the country, and eighth in the world, after Kolkata (23,900) and Mumbai (29,650) says a recent report, ‘Forgotten Voices - World of Urban Children in India’. Delhi is at number four now, with a density of 11,050 persons per sqkm.
C Lakshmanan, professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS) feels that the problem lies in distribution and not provision. “A city may come up with an eight storey library worth over `100 crore, while the same money could have been used for other beneficial purposes.”
The matter of concern, he adds, is not about having space to accommodate the influx of people to the city. “The question really is, will there be equal distribution of amenities to the to the working class who constitute the majority of the urban population, and keep our economy rolling,” Lakshmanan asks. Agreeing, Job Zachariah, chief of UNICEF for Tamil Nadu and Kerala said, “All the indicators look better when you take the urban population as a whole. But this not so when you shift the focus to urban slums on parameters like education, hygiene and sanitation.” The challenge is only bound to grow. The report adds that the population in the four Indian metro cities alone is expected to cross 600 million by 2030. “Once a poor, working class family is uprooted from their locality, the family members including children forego all the health and education facilities they derived until then, and move to the slums near their locations of employment. Most don’t even have their entitlement papers, which force their children to drop out from school and enrol in workforce,” points out Andrew Sesuraj, State convenor of Tamil Nadu Child Rights Observatory (TNCRO). Moreover, the rise in number would only lead to more exploitation of children living in urban slums, adds Sarah Ramya from Aid et Action. “There are over two lakh children who live in Chennai slums, of whom many fall prey to domestic violence, substance abuse and sexual exploitation. An influx is only going to worsen their situation.
In 1996, UN Habitat and UNICEF had started a global programme called the Child Friendly City or Community, which has prescribed guidelines that cities can adopt in their governance to have a healthy child friendly society. Kochi will launch it by the end of this month, but no other city in the country has done it yet.
“The urban poor and their children continue to be worse than the rural poor,” says Job Zachariah.