Protecting Young People living in Urban Poverty Today and in the Future

The seven stories in this report challenge those who care about young people and the future of our cities. The two are closely linked, especially in developing countries, where half the urban population may be under 25. City planners, political leaders, employers and civil society groups have a common interest in supporting the resourcefulness and creativity of young people, and creating an urban landscape free of poverty and violence.

The first-person accounts of Maty, Freddy, Reham, Angelo, Bing, Geeta and Shimu reflect fragments of the tough urban lives of millions of young people today, and millions more in the future. Two elements cut across all seven stories: a background of poverty, hardship and violence, and hope for a better future, through their own efforts.

The theme of violence common to all the stories except Bing’s is not by chance; in any
city, in any part of the world, it is hard to find young people living in poverty who have not been touched by sexual abuse, gender-based violence, the violent impact of criminal activity, or random acts of violence.

The expected rapid growth of urban areas in coming decades will inevitably transform
the living spaces of all young people, for better or for worse. The children of Maty, Freddy, Reham, Angelo, Bing, Geeta and Shimu deserve a better start than their parents. They have a right to decent housing and sufficient food; to education, health care, and a life free from abuse and violence. Such a future is possible, if cities prepare themselves NOW to absorb and sustain projected population growth. They must focus attention on helping poor people to end their poverty; and above all invest in young people, who are the key to breaking the cycle which hands on poverty from generation to generation.

Policy makers at all levels and all stakeholders, including young people themselves, should be aware of the coming urban transformation and prepare for it. Cities should:

- Ensure that young people have access to quality education in the neighbourhoods
where they live that will prepare them for the changing needs of the labour market;
that schools are free from violence, neglect and sexual abuse; that girls and boys are treated equally; and that they learn in school about conflict resolution, negotiation skills, critical thinking and sexual and reproductive health, including how to prevent HIV.

- In collaboration with employers, train young people to develop the skills demanded by the labour market; support the efforts of the Youth Employment Network (http://www.ilo.org/public/ english/employment/strat/yen/) and replicate this model as a way to link young people with genuine employment opportunities.

- Protect young people’s health. Provide young people with easy access to affordable, youth-friendly health services. These should include sexual and reproductive health services, so that young people can protect themselves from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

- Ensure access to the clean and safe water, sanitation and adequate housing necessary for a healthy transition to adulthood; and ensure security of tenure and property rights.

- Support young people to be part of self-help efforts to build appropriate housing
for themselves and their families.

- Create safe spaces, in particular for adolescent girls in their communities, so they can navigate their own way through life without fear of violence or sexual abuse; involve young people in crime watch and prevention efforts; and ensure that police stations provide effective protection in poor neighbourhoods, not just in better-off communities.

- Involve young people in urban planning including decision-making, monitoring and
evaluation of city programmes designed for them; and engage young people as active
citizens, supporting them to develop a positive self-image and sense of belonging
to society, and allowing them to make positive contributions to the well-being of
their communities.

- Strengthen urban governance, with support from regional and national governments, to enable these and similar measures.

- Mobilize support from the international community.

Action along these lines will be a departure from past policies. Rather than react to urban problems as they emerge, the aim should be to anticipate urban growth and its impacts. These proposed measures both support young peoples’ resourcefulness and attack the root causes of poverty. They ensure that young people are prepared to enter the labour market, stay healthy and postpone marriage and childbearing. Together, they represent a strategy for individuals to fulfil their human potential, and for cities to fulfil their function as the engines of national development.