In a groundbreaking achievement for the UAE, Sharjah has been named a ‘Child- Friendly City’ (CFC) by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in recognition of its outstanding efforts and accomplishments in the protection and promotion of children's rights. The accolade comes just three years after the emirate was named ‘Baby-Friendly City’ by the UN and World Health Organisation.
Sharjah has been crowned as the first city in the world to receive the UN’s prestigious title after successfully meeting the new international requirements and criteria launched by UNICEF’s global CFC initiative and its new brand identity last month, to ensure the fulfillment of children's rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The CFC initiative aims to make the greatest positive impact on the lives of children and adolescents in the cities, towns and villages where they live.
The announcement was made during a special session for Sharjah’s children and youth held at the Consultative Council of Sharjah, in the presence of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council Ruler of Sharjah, and Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairperson of the Sharjah Baby Friendly Office.
Speaking on the great occasion, His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, who received the official accreditation from UNICEF, said: “Our key goal has been, and always will be, to provide the sound foundations for a society where everyone can participate in shaping a future that is fit their ambitions and ours. And in spite of technological evolution and changing tools of labor, it is the human who will determine the direction and progress of societies and civilisations through ideology and determination.”
His Highness firstly thanked everyone who contributed to this achievement, saying: “Thank you all for your presence. I would also like to extend my sincerest gratitude and personal thanks to Balagopal Gopalan, Louise Thivant, Essam Ali and the United Nations Children’s Fund team for their wholehearted support, and the members of the Sharjah Steering Committee for their dedication and unwavering efforts. And foremost, I would like to thank Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, and all those who work alongside her, as what we reap today is the result of their continuous efforts in raising our generations.”
Addressing the children and youth, Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi stated: “Today, we are here for you and will always work for you. I want you to know that every effort undertaken by Sharjah is a responsibility for us and a fundamental right for you. And we will always strive to achieve more. This is why we established the Sharjah Children Shura Council and the Youth Shura Council where you can be a major influence on your society and enhance your loyalty to the nation.”
We are delighted with the official announcement by UNICEF in naming Sharjah as a Child-Friendly City, the world’s first city to receive this prestigious title, according to the United Nations’ new standards and principles.”
His Highness Ruler of Sharjah added: “I would like to recall my words when Sharjah was crowned with the Baby-Friendly City title. That day I said that our efforts will not stop and we will strive for more, because the welfare of children has no limits, and it is more than a goal by which to receive regional and international recognition. Taking care of our children is a divine duty and a commitment towards our stability. It reinforces our goals of humanitarian values and compassion, which I believe are the bridges that lead to excellence in all aspects of life. Today, we are here again to celebrate a new milestone on our continuous journey”.
With the new honour, Sharjah has added a new milestone to the UAE’s rich portfolio of achievements in child protection and welfare. This is due to momentous efforts spearheaded by Sharjah’s childcare institutions which have provided a role model for other global organisations affecting children’s wellbeing.
The ceremony was attended by Sheikh Salem bin Abdulrahman Al Qasimi, Chairman of Sharjah Ruler's Office, Sheikh Mohammed bin Humaid Al Qasimi , Director of Sharjah Department of Statistics and Community Development, Dr. Hessa Khalfan Al Ghazal, Executive Director of the Sharjah Baby-Friendly Office (SBFO) and members of the Steering Committee of Sharjah’s Project to attain the Child-Friendly City status.
A number of the members of the Sharjah Children’s Shura Council and Sharjah Youth Shura Council, in addition to students from Sharjah’s schools, also attended the ceremony.
Attending the session from the UNICEF delegation were Balagopal Gopalan, Acting Representative of the Gulf Area Office; Louise Thivant, Policy and Advocacy Specialist; Essam Ali, Social Policy Specialist, at the Gulf Area Office; Dr. Dalia Haroun, Public Health and Nutrition Consultant; Moataz Azzam, Programme Consultant; and Ola Al Saleh, the Sharjah Initiative Coordinator.
The selection of Sharjah was based on a range of specific criteria which included that every child be treated respectfully and equally by society and all bodies and authorities. Other stipulations stated that children have the right to grow up in a safe and clean environment where they feel safe and secure, have access to basic services, can play, learn and grow and where their voice is heard and matters. The views, needs and priorities of children and young adults must be taken into consideration while developing legislation, policies, programmes and budgets for children and youth and every child must be afforded equal opportunities to enjoy family life, play and have entertainment.
Louise Thivant, Policy and Advocacy Specialist at UNICEF gave an address, praising Sharjah’s efforts in its journey to be recognized a Child-Friendly City, and the work and dedication shown by the emirate to provide the best care for children, protect their rights, and prepare them for the future according to the highest international standards.
She said: “I have followed the work carried out in Sharjah closely over the past couple of years, and I have been encouraged to observe the great commitment to work together with children and young people in Sharjah and to improve their lives and futures. I have also observed that the commitment to make Sharjah child-friendly started before the decision to become a Child Friendly City was made.”
She added: “I assisted consultations with different groups of children and young people. I was particularly touched by the confidence with which these children and young people articulated their visions and hopes for their future.”
Six youngsters engaged in talks during the session where they expressed their pride in Sharjah being crowned with such a prestigious title and also gave their suggestions and insights about the emirate’s efforts in the welfare and protection of children and young people in the years to come.
Khalid Hafedh, a member of the Sharjah Youth Consultative Council who suffers from hearing and speech impairments, said in sign language: “I am extremely happy because I live in Sharjah – a city where we feel that we are truly loved, respected and appreciated. Sharjah is home to schools and sports and leisure clubs where I can communicate with my peers although I can neither speak nor hear. I hope that Sharjah will continue spreading awareness about our needs and carry on with its efforts to ensure that all buildings and institutions, schools and public places are child-friendly and conducive to children with disabilities. I hope that children with disabilities have easy and safe access to all places in the emirate.”
Anta Ariana Zaman, a student at Victoria International School of Sharjah, said: “I have participated this year in many workshops at school where we learned about cyber security and safety. My friends and I really enjoyed our time during these workshops because we were playing games and having fun while learning. I suggest to organize more of these workshops at all schools and for children of all ages to allow them to learn how to protect themselves and be there for their friends when they need help.”
Rashed Al Suwaidi, a member of Sharjah Children and the Children’s Shura Council added: “Sharjah always offers us numerous options to have fun and enjoy entertainment activities, whether at school or children’s and youth centres. I like sports and play football with my schoolmates and in the public park in our area. I hope that other outdoor activities are included in the school curriculum to be an integral part of our education at school.”
Amaan Shad, a student at Victoria International School of Sharjah, said: “In Sharjah, we always go to fun activities and events with our parents where we can learn and play. My parents can also enjoy their time without being worried about us. Our school also organizes many sporting and recreational events throughout the year and they ask us to invite our parents to attend and participate in them. I believe that all private and public schools in Sharjah must always communicate with the parents of the students to keep them updated about their studies and activities at all times.”
Fatima Faraj Al Amiri, a member of Sharjah Children, said: “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be here. I believe this council is the best thing that Sharjah offers us. The Sharjah Children’s Shura Council provides a perfect platform to express our ideas and talk freely about our needs. Words cannot describe how I feel when the issues we discuss at the council are given priority by officials, or when I read in newspapers that some ideas have been approved on the grounds of our recommendations.” He also suggested that such councils be increased, like a council at each school in Sharjah where students can share their opinions about their school, area and city.
Sneha Binu, a student at Victoria International School of Sharjah, said: “There are many events dedicated for us in Sharjah even outside the school. For example, we found the joy of reading and books at Sharjah Children's Reading Festival. We watched movies during the Sharjah Children's Film Festival. We participated in workshops on cyber security and children's safety. We can also visit museums, the Sharjah Discovery Center and many other places. It was fun and interesting and we enjoyed our time with friends. I hope to organize these trips and visits regularly at all schools.”
Sharjah has worked relentlessly to support policies and measures that have a positive impact on the growth and welfare of children, making it a privileged place for children and young people to live, play, and learn. It is home to high-end facilities and services related to their health and safety, where their rights to education and community engagement are protected. These world-class facilities are unmatched in many cities across the world, thanks to the sound directives of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah, and his wife, Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, Chairperson of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs.
Over the past 40 years, Sharjah has become home to many centres and institutions concerned with children, working to provide all forms of protection and care for children from early age until they reach adulthood.