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close this bookBasic Facts on Urbanization (HABITAT, 2001, 21 p.)
View the documentAbout
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentGeneral Demographic Trends
View the documentThe Growth of Large Cities
View the documentThe Economics of Cities
View the documentUrbanization and Feminization of Poverty
View the documentThe Challenge of Adequate Housing
View the documentHomelessness
View the documentUrban Violence
View the documentEnvironmental Deterioration
View the documentAccess to Services and Basic Infrastructure
View the documentChildren in the Urban World
View the documentSustainable Urban Development
View the documentGlobal Campaigns on Security of Tenure and Urban Governance
View the documentNotes
View the documentList of References

Children in the Urban World

About 37 per cent of the world's population are children under the age of 18. The vast majority of these (86 per cent) live in developing countries (see table 12). In fact, in some regions (such as Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa & Middle East) more than half of the population are children under the age of 18. If the proportions of children are similar in urban and rural areas, this would imply that there are currently some 780 million children in the urban areas of developing countries. UNICEF has estimated that by 2025, six out of every ten children in developing countries will live in cities, and more than half of them will be poor.(49)

Table 12. Population under 18 years, by region (1996)


As percentage of total population in region

As percentage of global population under 18 years

Industrial countries



High-income economies



Transitional economies



Developing countries



Latin America & Caribbean



Sub-Saharan Africa



North Africa & Middle East



Asia & Pacific









Rest of Asia & Pacific



World total



Source: Based on UNICEF, 1999 (see also note 47).

The majority of these children live in slum and squatter settlements with overcrowded, unhealthy housing and a lack of basic services such as clean water, sanitation and waste disposal. Urban poor children in developing countries are exposed to a double health risk. Firstly they are exposed to diseases of poverty (i.e. preventable diseases) such as diarrhoea, respiratory infections, malaria, measles, cholera and dengue fever. Secondly they are also exposed to diseases of pollution, such as high blood-lead levels and leukaemia, as well as being exposed to a higher risk of accidents. Health statistics show that children living in low-income settlements often have four times higher morbidity rates than their richer counterparts. Urban poor children are also worse off than rural poor children. In some countries gastrointestinal diseases are seven times higher in urban low-income children than in rural children.(50)

It is estimated that 45 per cent of the female population are girl children under the age of 15 years. Many of these are victims of discrimination and neglect. Poor parents often trade off social investments favouring boys at the cost of girls, an "apartheid of gender" as UNICEF calls it.(51)

The Habitat Agenda noted that "... the well-being of children is a critical indicator of a healthy society". (52) Social changes linked to urbanisation have seen a rapid growth in the number of children in especially difficult circumstances - including street children, abused or neglected children, working children and children that are victims of armed conflicts. The Organization of African Unity (OAU) has estimated that, in 1992, 80 million children (25 per cent of the African child population) lived in especially difficult circumstances. OAU has further predicted that if mayors and policy makers ignore the plight of these children, their numbers will have increased to 150 million by the year 2000.(53)