Nirwono Joga, Jakarta

Children are the best imitators. They can easily memorize, follow and imitate what adults do. We need to be aware of and reflect on what examples we set daily by avoiding cross-bridges and zebra crossings, dumping garbage, driving cars carelessly, ignoring road signs and traffic lights, demolishing people's homes and parks, forcing vendors to move, felling urban trees and allowing children to roam the streets.

Meanwhile, limited playgrounds for children living in cities give parents a feeling of security if their kids are at home after school. This means children are left gazing at violence-dominated Playstations or video games or watching TV programs that are filled with crime, celebrity gossip and soap operas that present violent behavior, harsh language, infidelity, divorce and polygamy.

According to 2002 data, Indonesian children watched television for between 30 and 35 hours a week, or 1,560 to 1,820 hours a year. The figures are far higher than those for primary school attendance, totaling no more than 1,000 hours a year. The children's Media Development Foundation (YPMA) recorded in 2004 that out of the 80 children's TV programs aired each week, only 12 titles were suitable for minors.

The National Commission for Child Protection recorded 216 cases of physical violence, 378 cases of sexual abuse and 400 cases of psychological maltreatment in 2006, an increase from 178, 378 and 273 cases respectively the previous year.

The Office of the State Minister for Women's Empowerment launched the "Child-Friendly Cities" program in early 2007. The cities of Surakarta, Sidoarjo, Kutai Kartanegara, Jambi and Gorontalo were selected as models that are socially suitable for children after observation of their child-related cases and a study of how local administrations coped with children.

An indicator of child-friendly cities is the fulfillment of children's rights in all fields. Such cities allow children to play an active role in urban planning and development, certainly according to their capacities and needs. Never underestimate children. They are capable of making changes and solving urban matters in more creative, direct and simpler ways.

The provincial administration and council of Guangdong, China, for instance, included 11 youngsters aged 13-18 in the formulation of a bylaw regulating, among other things, the prohibition of the broadcasting of violent and horrific programs and cartoons on television during study hours (17:00-20:00).

A bunch of children and teenagers from 100 schools in Patna, Bihar, one of India's sleaziest cities, formed the Taru Mitra (friend of trees) group and managed to build 20-30 small gardens, planting 50 kinds of urban trees, recycling paper and making compost from residents' organic waste.

Walker, a primary school student from Wolverhampton, West Midlands, Britain, is now gathering signatures and funds to rescue a public swimming pool that is going to be closed by city authorities. Youngsters in Toronto, Canada, are launching a city greening movement in guerrilla fashion. Our children are beginning to grow trees in schools.

Children are entitled to urban facilities such as clean water and sanitation; to health services such as school health care and nutritional improvement; to low-cost education such as nine-year education for poor families and education for children needing specific treatment; to security guarantees such as the Children's Friend Telephone or TESA 129, now available for free, and to parks, playgrounds and sports grounds.

Children should live a decent life and be protected from various threats of physical and non-physical violence. They are actually "playing beings". The 2006 research results of Prof. John Reilly from Glasgow, Britain, indicate that children should be engaged in sporting activities for one hour each day. This means that cities should increase the number of children's parks. In Surakarta, Central Java, five "Smart Solo Children's Parks" are being built for learning and playing.

Prof. Nancy Wells from Cornell University, the U.S., has proven through her research that living in a green and open environment can heighten concentration and boost productivity. Schools with green surroundings achiever higher overall exam scores, with students being more disciplined and studying more industriously.

The Tokyo city administration on Nov. 18, 2006, issued a new rule obliging 2,000 schools (from primary to high school levels) to have grass yards within the next 10 years. The greening of school yards is aimed at reducing temperatures in schooling environments, saving energy that would have been used on air conditioning, providing safe and convenient sports grounds, offering insects a habitat and students a study facility and allowing for an evacuation site.

Cities should also build pathways 3-5 meters wide and 20 centimeters high for pedestrians on even-road surfaces (rather than bumpy or cracking ones) and plant shady trees, so that school children and cyclists can safely pass the lanes. School buildings near settlements should be easily accessible by bike or by foot, thus saving costs and energy.

The child-friendly pilot cities have built School Safety Zones (ZoSS) as safe areas for students going to school and returning home on foot, by bike or public transportation. The creation of child-friendly cities serves as proof of the serious commitment of the Indonesian government to the protection of children's rights from the various threats of urban violence to which they are prone.

The writer is chairman of the Indonesian Landscape Architecture Study Group, which is based in Jakarta.
"People say funny things......."

Peter Kay