Sharjah Region’s First Candidate City for UNICEF’s ‘Child Friendly Cities’ Initiative
Sharjah Announced Region’s First Candidate City for UNICEF’s ‘Child Friendly Cities’ Initiative
The emirate’s candidacy marks the culmination of years of commitment to
children and adolescents
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has announced Sharjah a candidate city for its ‘Child Friendly Cities’ Initiative, culminating the emirate’s efforts over the past three decades in protecting and elevating the status of children and youth. Sharjah’s candidacy for the Initiative – the first of its kind in the region – follows the emirate’s ground-breaking achievement of becoming the world’s first Baby Friendly City in December 2015.
The announcement was made at a press conference held e at the Maraya Art Centre in Al Qasba, and was attended by Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairperson of the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq); Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdullah Al Thani, Chairman of the Department of Statistics and Community Development in Sharjah, Her Excellency Khawla Al Mulla, Chairperson of the Sharjah Consultative Council (SCC); Brigadier Saif Mohammad Al Ziri Al Shamsi, Commander-in-Chief of Sharjah Police; Dr Abdulaziz Al Muhairi, Director of Sharjah Health Authority; Khalid Al Ali, Secretary General of the Sharjah Urban Planning Council; Dr Hessa Al Ghazal, Executive Director of the Sharjah Baby Friendly Office (SBFO); Essam Ali, Social Policy Specialist at UNICEF, Louise Thivant, Policy and Advocacy Specialist at UNICEF; and International Child Rights Expert at UNICEF, Vanessa Sedletzki.
The conference revealed that SBFO along with over 23 government and private institutions working for children have been acting on strengthening their respective Child Friendly City Initiative (CFCI) Core Components laid out by UNICEF, which will guide the emirate in its journey to become the region’s first ‘Child Friendly City’.
Underlining Sharjah’s efforts to provide children access to health and safety, as well as ample opportunities for growth, Dr Hessa Al Ghazal revealed that SBFO and its partners have already achieved the 50% growth laid out by the UN growth indicator targets for the year 2025, 9 years in advance of the deadline – a big factor responsible for determining its candidacy.
She lauded the unfailing commitment and efforts of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, and His Wife, Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, Chairperson of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs, in caring for children and young adults where they are able to cherish their growing up years, and capable enough to choose stronger and brighter futures for themselves.
“Sharjah’s ongoing efforts to provide a conducive environment for children and young adults to thrive, have resulted in the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with UNICEF, to conduct a joint study on the status of children in Sharjah, based on UNICEF’s ‘Child Friendly Cities’ initiative criteria. In the process, we have conducted over 70 field visits and workshops for 23 departments and institutions in Sharjah from July 2016 to January 2017,” said Dr Al Ghazal
A presentation by the two UNICEF representatives followed, in which they spelled out UNICEF’s definition of a Child Friendly City or community as one in which children are safe, have equal access to resources and opportunities, and most importantly, have a voice in shaping their and their community’s futures.
Moving ahead, they shared the UNICEF’s CFCI Core Components Toolkit, which lays out different models of execution, explains simple but practical ways to engage children, recounts the experiences of other successful Child Friendly Cities, and finally, mentions tools and methods to assess impact.
Vanessa Sedletzki said: “We’re very pleased to see all the different efforts and initiatives that have been going on in Sharjah and we look forward to working with the emirate to make it a Child Friendly City. We see that there are few challenges outstanding still, which need to be addressed, in particular, to further advance child participation. We also want to see all children – regardless of who they are or their nationalities, whether boys, girls, or children with disabilities – to be included in everything that happens the emirate. This would make Sharjah a truly Child Friendly City.”
Louise Thivant said: “We are very happy to be here and establish this partnership between UNICEF and Sharjah. We are truly heart warmed by the commitment that we see, and the emirate’s investment in this important project over the years, In particular, we were impressed by Sharjah’s strong determination in improving the lives of children, by providing them many opportunities and several avenues for them to participate in the everyday life of the emirate.”
First panel discussion and action plan:
Sharjah Baby Friendly Office (SBFO), in collaboration with the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF), held a panel discussion at the Sharjah Consultative Council (SCC) headquarters to discuss the action plan that will be implemented in the coming phase. The session was also attended by representatives of local government departments concerned with children’s rights.
International Child Rights Expert at UNICEF, Vanessa Sedletzki, spoke during the session about Sharjah’s strengths, placing the emirate as a strong candidate for the initiative.
“Through the adoption and steady implementation of a series of constructive policies, Sharjah has made significant progress in addressing the needs of children and young people. The emirate’s wise leadership has continually served this cause with both their vision and financial support, which has led to the development of a large number of facilities and amenities,” Sedletzki said.
“The action plan’s approach should be child-right-based, comprehensive, knowledge-based, operational and measurable in order to be able to measure results and impact,” she added.
Ten Core Components of a ‘Child Friendly City’:
Sedletzki mapped 10 core components for the SCFC Action Plan, which include a comprehensive child rights policy and legal frameworks, and ensuring that they are known; preparing an action plan for child rights; enhancing children’s participation; emphasising equity, inclusiveness and non-discrimination; developing leadership coordination and partnerships; preparing a comprehensive plan for communication and public relations; ensuring monitoring and evaluation; following an independent accountability mechanism; and finally providing rest, play and leisure facilities for all children.
The UNICEF International Child Rights Expert stressed that having meticulously followed the core components, Sharjah would have a strong chance at emerging as the region’s first ‘Child-Friendly City’.
For her part, Louise Thivant, Policy and Advocacy Specialist at UNICEF, informed that UNICEF is planning a CFCI training, which will be extended to implementing CFCI partners in Sharjah.
The UNICEF Child Friendly Cities Initiative was launched in 1996 to promote the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child at the level where it has the greatest direct impact on children’s lives – in the cities where they live.
A Child Friendly City guarantees the right of every young citizen to influence decisions and express their opinions about their city and participate in family, community and social life. It also pledges that children and young adults will receive basic services such as healthcare, education and shelter and that they are provided with safe drinking water and have access to proper sanitation. Children should be protected from exploitation, violence and abuse, and be able to walk safely in the streets, enjoy leisure time, have green spaces for plants and animals, and participate in cultural and social events, regardless of ethnic origin, religion, income, gender or disability.
The Sharjah Child Friendly City project team seeks to drive the emirate forward as a strong candidate city for the UNICEF Initiative, highlighting its care and commitment strategies to children from birth to 18 years of age. Sharjah’s adoption of the project marks its intent to expand the mandate and scope of the ‘Sharjah Baby Friendly Emirate Campaign’, which targeted new born babies aged 0-2 years.
SBFO was established in June 2016 and aims to protect and elevate the status and wellbeing of children of all ages in Sharjah. It creates relevant strategies and plans and implements them in cooperation with relevant institutions and government authorities.