Childhood is mostly experienced in urban contexts

An estimated 60% of urban residents will be below 18 years old in 2030.¹

Over 90% of urban growth will occur in Asia and Africa.

Photo: Sima Diab / Save the Children

Growing Urban

There is a longstanding assumption that children in urban areas are better off than their rural counterparts. But urban areas are growing increasingly unequal.

Average indicators taken over a whole urban area often hide the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable urban residents.

Moreover, the lack of reliable data makes it difficult to estimate the magnitude of the problem.

About 35-50% of the over 1 billion people living in slums are children

Of the over 1 billion people living in slums globally, approximately 350 to 500 million are children.2 A country of this size would be the third biggest in the world. The rate of urban population growth is quickly outpacing the ability of local governments to plan urban settlements to meet demands for housing and infrastructure. As a result increasing numbers of children will be growing up in slums and informal settlements.

Find out how much of your country’s urban population lives in slums



of the world’s children under 15 breathe air that puts their health at risk, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).4


Nearly 144 million children under the age of five are stunted

Malnutrition undermines the health of children and young people and has long-term implications for their development and health.

Nearly 144 million children under the age of 5 are affected by malnutrition, with 1 in 3 living in urban slums and informal settlements.5 

Obesity is also a fast- growing problem in low and middle income countries and particularly in urban areas, with 38 million children under the age of 5 overweight. 6

Malnutrition contributes to an estimated 54% of all deaths in this age group, and to increased vulnerability to a range of other health problems, including the greater risk of overweight later in life.7


Of the 70 million forcibly displaced people in the world, more than half are children.

A growing number of these children are ending up as migrants, and refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) are living in urban areas – many in slums and informal settlements.10

These numbers are projected to accelerate due to climate change and regional conflicts. Exclusion from formal systems and services, especially housing, water, sanitation, energy and public facilities can lead to eviction, limit access to social protection, credit, insurance, and even the right to vote.11


Slums and informal settlements often lack adequate water and sanitation infrastructure.

This puts children living in these areas at risk of diarrheal disease, the second biggest cause of mortality in children under 5 years old.



Road traffic accidents are the number one cause of death to people aged between 5 and 29.3 Safe journeys to school, frequent pedestrian crossings, continuous pavements and speed limitations are central to the safety of our children and youth.


Informal settlements bring a high incidence of violence for both girls and boys.

Women and girls are often at a greater risk of abuse and sexual violence in neighbourhoods where they only have access to shared toilets far from their homes and have to walk through unlit streets at night. Boys in some contexts are vulnerable to being recruited into gangs and organised crime groups.


With 90% of reported cases, urban areas are ground zero of the COVID-19 pandemic.12

As such, urban children are affected – not only due to direct health risks, but also the negative impacts of infection control measures that have exacerbated inequality and disproportionally impacted the health, nutrition, education and wellbeing of the poorest and most marginalised children.13


Early childhood care is often lacking in poorer neighbourhoods

this has a knock-on effect of preventing women from working. Schools in poorer urban areas are often overcrowded and lacking in terms of resources and quality. The number of secondary schools in poor neighbourhoods are also limited, making journeys to these schools longer and a barrier for children to attend.


Ecological and spatial inequalities

mean that residents of informal settlements and slums often have no choice but to build their houses in unsafe places, making them vulnerable. This can make them especially vulnerable to hurricanes, localized flooding, and other climate related disasters.
Such vulnerability will be exacerbated by climate change. Children are less able to cope with increasing heat, are at higher risk than adults of contracting disease and are more likely than adults to suffer injury or fatality during disasters.8


Only 46.7 % of the urban population has a public space within a 5-minute walk from their place of residence due to unequal distribution.15

The limited space available and poor quality of public spaces in informal settlements reduces the opportunity for children to be children and play safely close to home. Not having the space to play can compromise children’s physical, social and cognitive development.


Of all areas that will be urban in 2030, 60% are yet to be built.14

Therefore, children’s lives, wellbeing, development and futures will be increasingly determined by the shape of urban planning and development. This gives us the opportunity to include children’s needs as well as their voice on the urban planning agenda.

For a more detailed understanding of the issues faced by children and young people in urban areas visit the knowledge hub.


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