By Sharmla Rama, September 2005
A review of literature on children's mobility and transport needs shows that this is a relatively under-researched area. Available studies focus on travel to and from school and road safety, with particular emphasis on children residing in urban areas of developed countres. Very little attention is given to children's mobility needs and constraints in rural areas of developing countries. An area seldom considered in case studies on children and childhood, or theorised within a child rights framework, is the impact of a lack of transport infrastructure on children's development, well being, and their livelihood contexts.
Recent studies show childrens transport needs are not only related to their need to access educational facilities and care related services but also dependent on the livelihood or household activities they engage in (Turner & Kwakye, 1996, Rama 1999, Robson 2004, Porter 2004). Studies on children's time use show that birth order, family size and composition, sex composition of the sibling group, age, gender,social class, and locale all have an impact on the types of activities in which children engage, as well as the amount of time they spend on the activities (Ben-Arieh & Ofir, 2002; and Rama and Richter, 2005). Girls in particular shoulder a heavier burden of household work. Many of the activities girls engage in are undertaken on foot, are labour intensive, time consuming, involve head loading, and/or may include the simultaneous activity of carrying children on their backs. In households owning, for example, bicycles or animal driven carts these are usually exclusively used by boys and males.
The available studies on children's mobility and transport indicate that more investigation is needed to determine among others the impact of mobility and access constraints for children's, particularly girl's, development, well-being, participation in education and, in future, labour market activities (Porter & Blaufuss, 2004). The 1999 UNICEF State of the World's Children report, for example, cites studies in Nepal that show for every kilometer a child walks to school the likelihood of school attendance drops by 2.5%. This figure rises for girls and children with disabilities. Fatigue, exhaustion, risk of dangers such as sexual assault and road accidents are some of the contributory factors to non-attendance or irregular attendance. Similarly a recent report on education in South African rural communities (Nelson Mandela Foundation 2005) found that children travelling considerable distances are being turned away from school for being late. In most instances the resaon for being late is that children did household work such as the collection of water, or wood/dung before leaving for school. Barriers that constrain or exclude children from accessing educational facilities, health or welfare services impacts not only on their development and well-being but also infringe on their rights.
What this suggests is that there needs to be a shift to more child centred methodologies where the child rather than the family, household or school is the central theoretical and analytical unit of observation, measurement and interpretation. when we begin to conceptualise and identify children's mobility and accessibility constraints and needs in a child-centred manner, we can also factor into the analysis and theorising, aspects relating to gender,locale, class divisions, and population group, as well as issues such as children's development trajectories, and the relevance of age or sub group dissaggregation of information. For example statistics on infants and toddlers, pre-schoolers, children in school care, those not in school and adolescents. Within this framework the child's actions, needs, experiences, and social world are the immediate focus. This approach not only presents a challenge to developing appropriate and affordable modes of travel for children, but also issues of how to mainstream the transport needs of children into transport planning and policymaking.
Child, Youth and Family Development (CYFD) Research Programme
Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), South Africa
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