To create a sustainable and well balanced society in the future, we have to ensure that we nurture and care for our children today, giving them the opportunity to shape their communities. This, broadly speaking, is the reasoning behind the Unicef Child Friendly Cities Initiative.
A Child Friendly City guarantees the right of every young citizen to influence decisions and express their opinions, participate in family and community life, receive basic services such as health care, education and shelter, safe water, access to proper sanitation, protection from exploitation, violence and abuse, availability of play, leisure, and green spaces, and participate in cultural and social events, irrespective of their ethnic origin, religion, gender or ability.
Sharjah is actively seeking to join the Unicef Child Friendly Cities initiative, because it recognises the value it brings to the community. Sharjah’s efforts represent the culmination of more than four decades of commitment from His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, and his wife, Her Highness Shaikha Jawaher Bint Mohammad Al Qasimi, Chairperson of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs, who have spared no effort to make the emirate an ideal place for children to thrive. The emirate has launched numerous initiatives over the years in support of children and in recognition of the need to nurture their development. The first Boy Scouts and Girl Guides Associations in the UAE were established in Sharjah, while the first dedicated children’s library was opened in Al Riffa District in 1985, which was later developed to become a children’s centre targeting children aged six to 12 years. Today, Sharjah is home to 14 children’s centres.
In 1997, Sharjah Children Centres launched the Sharjah Children Shura Council. The council is a mock parliamentary platform that represents children aged between eight and 12 years and is formulated by free election for two years. Sharjah is considered a pioneer in the implementation of this project in the Gulf countries and the Arab world.
To create a youth leadership base, Sharjah Youth Centres were established in 2003 to contribute to building the future of the emirate. In the following year, Girls Centres were established to develop the talents of girls, and it later became an independent body in 2012 under the name of Sajaya Young Ladies of Sharjah.
The emirate also takes children’s needs into consideration in various aspects — from creating child-friendly public places, workplaces, health institutions, and nurseries to promoting and encouraging breast-feeding for a healthier start to life, in addition to dedicating some of its largest annual events to youngsters, such as the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, Sharjah International Children’s Film Festival, Sharjah Children’s Biennial, dedicating entire sections to children’s publishers and children’s events and activities at the Sharjah International Book Fair — the third-largest book fair in the world.
Shaikha Jawaher’s administrative decision helped establish ‘Rubu’ Qarn (Quarter of a Century) — Foundation for Creating Future Leaders and Innovators, in September 2016 — which brings four children’s institutions under its umbrella. ‘Rubu’ Qarn aims to bring together these institutions to create a unified, clear, emirate-wide strategy to develop and nurture children’s talents and skills. The emirate’s strategy for its young people represents a key indicator of sustainable human development, where it has embraced a vision that encourages the participation of children and young people and the need to expand their opportunities.
On the occasion of Universal Children’s Day [on November 20], the special publication released by Unicef included, among articles from around the world, a special piece written by Sneha Binu Joseph (16 years), about her hometown Sharjah and why the emirate is a child-friendly city.
Anyone who has ever visited or lived in Sharjah, will realise that everything within it welcomes children and opens up opportunities for care and love for them.
Dr Hessa Al Ghazal is executive director of Sharjah Baby Friendly Office.