One in three children is growing up in a slum, UNICEF says. Ever more families are moving into the world's cities, where life is often worse there than in the countryside, according to the UN children's agency.
Nearly half of the world's children are growing up in slums. And the numbers are only expected to increase as the world's cities continue growing, UNICEF said in its State of the World's Children 2012 report.
The agency projects the urban population of 7 billion to balloon to include two-thirds of the more than 9 billion people expected to live on earth by 2050. But the quality of life in towns and cities, particularly in those of the developing and emerging countries, tends to be poor.
"Hundreds of million of children today live in urban slums, many without access to basic services," said UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake in the report.
"They are vulnerable to dangers ranging from violence and exploitation to the injuries, illnesses and death that result from living in crowded settlements atop hazardous rubbish dumps or alongside railroad tracks," he added.
In many of the world's slums up to 50 percent of children are malnourished and excluded from medical care and education, despite the fact that cities generally offer more schools, playgrounds and hospitals.
The number of malnourished and undernourished children was also on the increase, UNICEF said, pointing to India where around 54 percent of the poorest children in slums were physically or mentally disabled because of inadequate nourishment. Unhygienic and cramped living conditions led to ever more epidemics, tuberculosis, diarrhea and pneumonia.
Cutting off these underprivileged children not only prevents them from realizing their potential but also "robs their societies of the economic benefits of having a well-educated, healthy urban population," Lake said.
UNICEF said governments are failing to keep pace with the growth of urban areas. At the same time, it called on government, business and civil society to invest more in urban infrastructures.
ncy/ccp (dpa, Reuters, EPD)