Three examples of safe area-based facilities that improve the lives of urban children in disadvantaged settings

Children at a MAC engaged in arts and crafts activities

Author: Cities4Children

In dense, unplanned, and disadvantaged urban areas like slums and informal settlements, safe places and facilities where children can come together to learn, play, and access resources can be crucial for their health, development and wellbeing. In this blog, we share three types of facilities that deliver much-needed integrated services for children, young people and their caregivers.

350 to 500 million children live in slums and informal settlements in urban areas in Asia and Africa. Over the next 25 years, the global urban population is estimated to grow by 1.5 billion people, and 40% of this growth is projected to occur in slums and informal settlements.[i]

Children living in disadvantaged urban settings face multiple deprivations which have short and long-term impacts on their health and wellbeing and ability to thrive. Deprivations include food insecurity, lack of safe, clean, and secure living environments, and access to essential health and education services. As a result of these deprivations, children in disadvantaged urban areas are more at risk of malnutrition, dying from treatable common childhood illnesses like malaria, diarrhoea, and pneumonia, exposure to crime and violence both within and outside their homes, child labour and dropping out of school. Moreover, children living in cramped housing and extremely dense neighbourhoods have little to no safe space for play and learning within or outside their homes.

Sustainable and integrated settlement upgrading and development efforts are recognised as the most effective way to address the multiple deprivations children face. This requires stakeholders such as local governments, community-based organisations, NGOs, experts, and residents to address local issues related to infrastructure deficits, climate resilience, child health and development, and poverty in participatory, collaborative, and integrated ways. This is no easy feat and can span several generations. However, smaller and scalable area-based solutions can substantially improve children’s health, education, wellbeing and protection while large-scale development efforts are underway.

Here are three examples of safe, local, programmed, and scalable facilities for children in or near disadvantaged urban settings which provide a range of opportunities for children and help to reduce child health and education inequities.

Child-friendly Integrated Public Spaces in Jakarta, Indonesia

In Indonesia, the city of Jakarta has developed and implemented the concept of Child-friendly Integrated Public Spaces (locally referred to as RPTRA) as part of the national Child-Friendly City/District Initiative.[ii]

RPTRAs are public facilities established close to disadvantaged urban areas and comprise indoor and outdoor areas. These include community halls, libraries, breastfeeding rooms, toilets, play areas, shaded green spaces, sports fields, and jogging paths. They are programmed in participatory ways prioritising local needs in communities and made operational by bringing together a range of local and national stakeholders. Activities in RPTRAS include early childhood programs, traditional games, performing arts classes, health and education programs, and cultural events such as movie nights and festivals. In addition to attending structured activities, children and young people come to RPTRAS to play and socialise with their peers. RPTRAs are also designed to function as emergency shelters during disasters.

Child-friendly Integrated Public Spaces (RPTRA) in Jakarta, Indonesia

Child-friendly Integrated Public Space (RPTRA) in Jakarta, Indonesia

An RPTRA costs approximately USD 100,000 to set up. They are co-financed by the city and private sector. Over 300 have been built in the greater metropolitan area of Jakarta. While the program was dismantled with a change in political leadership, and no new RPTRAs are in the works, existing ones are fully supported and operated by the city and continue to function as vital community spaces. Studies evaluating RPTRAs show local communities value them, and children consider them to be ‘safe’, ‘secure’, and ‘happy’ places and often rank them as favourite places in their neighbourhoods. Local communities, including children,  play an active role in maintaining RPTRAs through activities like cleaning and gardening. Some challenges associated with RPTRAs include inadequate maintenance and management and not being well integrated into local plans and policies.

Resource Centres for children and young people in Dhaka’s informal settlement

Save the Children Bangladesh has established five Resource Centers (RCs) in a large informal settlement called Rayerbazaar in North Dhaka as part of its sponsorship program. The RCs are rented spaces with an area of about 500 to 600 sqft within Rayerbazzar. They have adequate lighting and ventilation, safe stairs, and access to basic services like water, toilets, and electricity. Once rented, the rooms are made lively and attractive with paint and appropriate learning materials. Each RC costs around USD 21,500 to establish and operate for a year. They accommodate up to 35 children and adults at a time.

Adolescent girls attending an RC session on health education in Rayerbazaar, Dhaka, Bangladesh © Save the Children, Bangladesh

RCs are programmed to function as multi-purpose learning and community hubs. A dedicated staff person in each RC, assisted by a trained volunteer, delivers a range of sessions on education, health & nutrition, and child protection to children of different age groups and caregivers. The sessions are open for all children and caregivers in the catchment area of the RC, given space availability.

Outreach sessions are held regularly in the community common spaces to ensure maximum reach of programming. The RCs also host festivals, events, community meetings, and campaigns, functioning as socio-cultural gathering spaces for local communities. Besides being a centre for children, young people, and their caregivers, the RCs have become trusted and highly regarded places in the community. This local trust, recognition, and pride in RCs have mobilised over 550 community volunteers to support the functions of the RCs.

Space is a precious commodity in urban areas. As RCs are typically located in rented single-story structures, many are under pressure to be transformed into multi-story buildings. The threat of eviction, rising rental prices, and the lack of availability of safe building structures with safe surroundings are some of the challenges faced by RCs.

Multi-Activity Centers in migrant-dominated settlements in Delhi, India

Multi-Activity Centers, or MACs, are set up by Save the Children, India, to provide education, health, and protection services to out-of-school children and those engaged in child labour. They are located in low-income migrant communities, which tend to have high rates of out-of-school children. MACs aim to identify and enrol out-of-school children, bridge their learning gaps through targeted courses, and integrate them into formal schools. They also provide enrolled children with life skills for success and psychosocial support, connect their families with eligible government-supported social protection schemes, and empower local communities to access essential social services, including health, childcare, water and sanitation.

Like RCs, MACs are set up in rented spaces. They are located within a 500m radius of target children and families. They are similar in size to RCs and have well-lit and ventilated spaces, built with safe materials and situated in areas safe from local hazards. Children attending MACs have access to clean water, gender-differentiated toilets, age and learning-level-appropriate education materials and equipment, and age-appropriate play and learning areas. Unlike RCs which are mostly program-driven activity spaces, MACs also provide opportunities for children to engage in unstructured activities like free play, games, and arts and crafts. Each MAC is fitted with a CCTV camera to ensure safety and security. Each MAC costs approximately USD 27000 annually.

Children participating in a bridge learning session at a MAC in Delhi, India © Bal Raksha Bharat (Save the Children, India)

17 MACs have been established in 6 districts in Delhi. In addition, 2 Mobile MACs (buses fitted with appropriate learning materials and equipment) are also operational to provide MAC services in hard-to-reach areas. Between 2020 and 2023, 2,461 out-of-school children were enrolled in MACs across six districts in Delhi, and 76% of these children have been mainstreamed into formal education. Additionally, 11400 migrants living in target communities have benefitted from the linkages to social protection schemes.

Challenges faced include finding and hiring appropriate and committed staff, finding safe and quality rental spaces in locations close to target communities, access to stable and reliable internet connectivity, and keeping safe expensive audio-visual equipment.


Each modality described above ‘makes space’ for essential and integrated program delivery in complex and disadvantaged urban settings. For children and adults in disadvantaged settings, these modalities provide:

  • Access to health, education and social protections programs and services
  • A safe space for play and socialising with peers
  • A venue for community events, festivals and campaigns

They also build trust within communities and inspire volunteer action.

One of the biggest challenges for RCs and MACs is sustainability. As rents are paid through program funds, these spaces will most likely be shut down once these funds run out. To address this challenge, Save the Children India is exploring options to establish these spaces more permanently via government programs and policies. For example, the organisation is considering using government-funded community centres and merging with Special Training Centers (after-school learning centres) to lower capital costs and ensure the sustainability of MACs.

A key recommendation for stakeholders, including donors, NGOs, and local governments, is to support capital and infrastructure investment in creating safe spaces for children like in the case of RPTRAs, as they are crucial for program delivery and sustainability of initiatives.


About the Author

Cities4Children wrote this blog based on a conversation with Kamrun Naher Ahmed, Manager- Urban Programme (Shishuder Jonno) at Save the Children in Bangladesh and Anand Pawar, Manager, Project Office, Delhi/NCR at Save the Children, India.



[i] United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2019). World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision (ST/ESA/SER.A/420). New York: United Nations.

[ii] The information for the RPTRA example is drawn from Chatterjee, S., A. Nallari, and C. Dutta (forthcoming) Public Spaces for Children: A Compendium of Global Case Studies. WHO, UNICEF, UN-Habitat.


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