Sharjah... A Child Friendly City

Dr. Hessa ALGhazal

  • Sunday 19, November 2017 02:56 PM
  • Sharjah... A Child Friendly City
If we are to create a sustainable and well balanced society in the future, we have to ensure we nurture and care for our children today, while 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 healthcare, 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.

The Emirate of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates is actively seeking to join the UNICEF Child Friendly Cities initiative, because it recognises the value it brings to the community, today and tomorrow.

Sharjah’s efforts in this regard represent the culmination of over four decades of commitment from His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Mohamad 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 - who have spared no effort to make the emirate an ideal place for children to live and 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 children’s dedicated library was opened in Al Rifa’a District in 1985, which was later developed to become a children’s centre targeting children aged 6-12 years. Today, Sharjah is home to 14 children’s centres in the emirate’s cities and suburbs.

In 1997, Sharjah Children Centres launched the Sharjah Children Shura Council. The council is a mock parliamentary platform which represents children aged 8-12 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. The following year saw the Girls Centres established with the aim of developing the talents of girls in all creative fields, which 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 promote and encourage breastfeeding for a healthier start to life, in addition to dedicating some its largest annual events to youngsters, such as the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, Sharjah International Children’s Film Festival, Sharjah Children 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.

The immense attention given by the emirate’s leadership to children and adolescents was clearly manifested in the administrative decision issued by Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi establishing ‘Rubu’ Qarn (Quarter of a Century) – Foundation for Creating Future Leaders and Innovators, in September 2016 - which brings together four children’s institutions under its umbrella that cater to children over the course of 25 years of their lives.

‘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.

These are just some of the initiatives launched by Sharjah over the years that care for young people and involve them in shaping their city. The emirate’s strategy for its young people represents a key indicator of sustainable human development, where it has embraced a forward-looking vision that believes in activating the participation of children and young people and the need to expand their opportunities in the present and future.

On the occasion of Universal Children’s Day, I would like to point to the special publication released by UNICEF on this day, which included, among tens of articles from around the world, a special article written by Sneha Binu Joseph (16 years), about her hometown Sharjah, and why the emirate is a child-friendly city.

These are just a few of the images that can be seen across the emirate. Anyone who has ever visited or lived in Sharjah, will realise that everything within it welcomes children and opens up opportunities of care and love for them.