The world is undergoing the largest wave of urban growth in its history. The 3 billion
population of towns and cities in 2005 will increase by 1.8 billion by 2030.(1) The urban
population of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa will double in less than a generation.

The fastest growth will be in the poorer urban areas. For example, the slum population of Dhaka has more than doubled in a decade, from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.4 million in 2006.

Most urban growth comes from natural increase (more births than deaths). The urban
poor have higher fertility rates than other urbanites: women have less education and
less autonomy; they know little about sexual and reproductive health services, and have little access to them.(2) Rural-urban migration also contributes to urban growth.

Young people under 25 already make up half the urban population and young people from poor families will be a big part of the urban wave. The future of cities depends on
what cities do now to help them, in particular to exercise their rights to education, health, employment, and civic participation.

Investment in young people is the key to ending generations of poverty. In particular
it is the key to reaching the Millennium Development Goals and halving poverty by

Young People in the Cities Today

Most urban young people were born in the cities. Others arrive on packed buses or
trains, bringing with them few possessions, great expectations, and an eagerness to
engage fully in a better life. They come with the hope of a good education, adequate
health services, and a society with plenty of jobs to choose from: a plan for escaping the poverty in which their parents are trapped.

Urban centres attract economic investments, and offer a high concentration of jobs and public services. Political power is concentrated in national, state or district capitals, and secondary schools, higher education institutions, and health care centres are better and more accessible in urban areas. The high disparity in the rates of school attendance among urban and rural youth illustrates the “urban advantage�: rural boys’ and girls’ school attendance rates are, respectively 26 and 38 per cent lower than their urban counterparts’.(3)

A vanishing dream?
At the beginning of the 21st century, the best recipe for a life without poverty is still to grow up urban; but young people’s dream of moving beyond their parents’ poverty is quickly vanishing. Although cities offer better jobs, housing, education, health care, and opportunities are unevenly distributed. Most people in the poorest countries, including the young, have little access to the amenities of urban life.

Although school attendance is higher in cities than in rural areas, many young people
in poor areas, especially girls, never start school, or drop out before finishing secondary level.

In urban centres, young people are faced with higher unemployment rates than adults; work is more likely to be in the unregulated “informal sector� where they are often
exposed to abuse and exploitation.

Housing for the urban poor is most likely to be in slums – crowded homes and poorly-built neighbourhoods with little or no infrastructure like paved roads, electricity, gas, piped water or sanitation. In some cities this applies to more than half the population.(4) In most African cities, for instance, only ten per cent of the population is connected to sewers, and many have no sewers at all. Many young women and men grow up resenting their exclusion from the promise of city life.

Extreme poverty, family conflict, violence and neglect, alcoholism or drug abuse in the
home, or the illness and death of parents, may drive young people to live on their own. In some countries a high proportion of urban adolescents do not live with their parents, for instance 30 per cent of Ethiopian girls aged 10 to 14.(6) In Benin 14.3 per cent of a sample of children up to age 14 in urban areas lived with neither parent, though both were alive, compared with 8.9 per cent of rural children. Some children live in the streets.

For young people brought up in poverty with low-quality education, health care and housing, and few prospects for steady work, things can go very wrong. Young people are often the risk takers and experimenters: they are regularly reminded of their unequal state and lack of opportunities – luxury cars in the streets; smart houses in safe neighbourhoods; opulent lifestyles in the mass media and on the Internet. Exclusion and frustration can lead to crime and violence.

Many young women leave their villages to avoid marrying young or dropping out of
school early. But slum life can be particularly dangerous for young women. Pervasive gender discrimination puts them at risk of sexual exploitation and violence. Poverty may force them to work long hours in unsafe and distant places, returning home alone on dark and dangerous streets. Having no knowledge or power to protect themselves, and poor health services, they are at increased risk of unwanted pregnancy, and childbirth without skilled care. Many teenage mothers have no support from their families or the fathersof their children. They may have to turn to transactional sex work to survive.

Positive signs
The creation of safe spaces for adolescent girls and young women can help turn urban
life into a positive experience through which they may find autonomy, access to resources, and self-control.

By design, the city brings people closer. Youth urban culture adds music, dance, and sports shaped by global and local issues. Information and communication technologies such as the Internet and mobile phones have changed the way young people in cities relate to one another, and to their counterparts in other countries. They have introduced and spread globalized aspirations and patterns of consumption.

The future of young people in the cities
The future of cities depends on the future of young people. In particular, it depends
on what policymakers can do to equip young people to break the cycle of poverty. This in turn depends on involving young people in the decisions that affect them. This report draws attention to some challenges and possibilities, and suggests some actions that will help young people live up to their potential.

The wave of urban growth, and the consequent increase in the supply of
labour, has the potential to stimulate economic growth – if local and municipal
governments in developing countries can improve the quality of governance, and
develop the institutional capacity to provide infrastructure and services. Services include universal access to education and health care, essential elements in the formation of human capital.

Governments must do four key things over the next 25 years to cope with change, reduce poverty, and create a stable environment for young people’s active participation in the urban transformation:

• Support young people to stay in school longer, so they are better educated and
have access to technological innovations, information, and the life skills needed to
enter changing labour markets.

• Support young people’s ability to exercise their right to health, including sexual and reproductive health, so they can stay healthy and free of sexually-transmitted diseases and HIV infection; avoid early pregnancy, postpone starting their families until they are ready, and have their children safely.

• Attract new investments to cities to create jobs and allow young people some
economic security before they start their families.

• Encourage organizations of young people, to facilitate their leadership and participation in local decision-making, and act as a positive force for better governance.

As UNFPA’s State of World Population Report says, the wave of urbanization means that the battle for the Millennium Development Goals is being fought in the cities of developing countries. Young people will be in the forefront. Success depends on how well cities, countries and the international community strengthen and support them.