United Arab Emirates
Child Friendly Cities Initiative
Sharjah is the third largest emirate of the United Arab Emirates, with a population of over 1.79 million (2022).
Under the directives of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, the emirate has striven for over 50 years to build a city where children and young adults live in a secure environment, enjoy their rights, and have access to basic services as well as platforms where their voices can be heard.
The Sharjah Child Friendly Office (SCFO), an affiliate of Sharjah Health Authority, was established in 2011 to work in collaboration with relevant bodies to design and implement targeted strategies and programs to support the rights of children and youth.
Sharjah’s care for children and youth started in the early 1950s, when the first scout troop in the UAE was established. Sharjah has been leading in childhood and motherhood services in the country since the 1970’s. This was evident as Sharjah was the first emirate to set up pioneer services dedicated to children and mothers, including children with special needs.
These efforts culminated in February 2017, when the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced the emirate a candidate city, the first in the region, for its Child-Friendly Cities Initiative. Since that date, Sharjah has made steadfast efforts to fulfil the legal, institutional, budgetary, and planning measures needed to meet the conditions required to become a child-friendly city (CFC).
Sharjah reached its objective in May 2018, His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi received this prestigious accolade from UNICEF, making it the first city in the Middle East to become a ‘Child Friendly City’, and the first in the world to obtain the title after implementing the new guidelines and criteria launched by UNICEF in 2018.
Sharjah’s CFC project is implemented by the Sharjah Child-Friendly Office, a dedicated government entity headed by Dr. Hessa Khalfan Alghazal Alsuwaidi, Executive Director of the office. To preserve the title, the emirate is executing a five-year action plan, overseen by the Sharjah Child-Friendly Office. The action plan essentially comprises the following:
- All certified child-friendly institutions in Sharjah will adhere to the five goals set by UNICEF’s Child-Friendly Cities Initiative designed to uphold and protect children’s identity, roles, and rights within their communities.
- These institutions will ensure that children’s needs and voices are prioritized by legislative, policymaking, and financial institutions.
- Specific focus will be placed on fulfilling children’s aspirations of safety, providing a nurturing environment, and ensuring the enjoyment of family and community life.
SCFO has launched various initiatives and programs to meet the goals of the action plan and to further promote child rights in different aspects of life.
In 2019 SCFO released a short film (song) to promote children rights and in the occasion of the first anniversary of the emirate being named a 'Child Friendly City' and released series of stories titled (1) The Choo-Choo Train (2) Our Big Dream (3) A Mystery in the City (4) My Childhood in Fifty Years Time. The books were published in Arabic, English and Braille languages. The stories were produced based on the age categories of children.
Sharjah, an active stakeholder in supporting the efforts of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), participated in the first United Nations global declaration on the rights of the child in the digital environment in 2021 with the aim of establishing an international standard for the protection of children's rights in the digital world.
Child Friendly Media
The Sharjah Child Friendly Media Project was launched in 2017 to address the issue of child rights by training media professionals and equipping them with the knowledge and skills required to protect and care for the rights of the child in the Media field. Sharjah Media Corporation signed to child-friendly guidelines for media professionals which recommended by League of Arab States. 200 media professionals and children were trained. 3 workshops for children. The League of Arab States and the Arab Council for Childhood and Development honored the “Sharjah Child-Friendly Office” in 2022 during the launching ceremony of the “Childhood-Friendly Media” guide under the title “Correcting Misconceptions about Children in the Arab Media,” which was held in the Egyptian capital, Cairo.
Child Friendly Urban Planning
The Sharjah Child Friendly Urban Planning (CFUP) project was launched in 2017 as a unique and pioneering project that focuses on children and youth expressing opinions and participating in the decision-making process of child-friendly urban planning. Sharjah Emirate has more than 66 green parks and safe play areas.
Sharjah set a global benchmark in child-friendly urban planning best practices with the launch of ‘Sharjah Planning Principles Guidance for Child Friendly Open Public Spaces’. The guide seeks to ensure the basic rights of children and youth from different cultures and exhibits varied competencies without discrimination and includes their right to express opinions and partake in decision-making processes and will serve as a reference for Sharjah government bodies and relevant entities working in urban planning, architecture, road works, and municipality, including specialists, engineers, designers and developers engaged in planning public spaces.
Children & Youth Friendly Carnival
The Sharjah Children & Youth Carnival was launched in 2018 to celebrate the recognition of Sharjah as a Child Friendly City (CFC). The carnival is distinguished as it is for children, in which children themselves manage and organize events and activities. The carnival is organized in collaboration with many entities working with and for children as well as members of steering and executive committees. The second Children & Youth Carnival was held in 2019 when Sharjah won a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for ‘the most children in one cut-out board’ by setting up a 50-metre-long wall at Al Majaz Amphitheatre Island to serve as a frame in which 72 children posed for a world-record cut-out board photo. Fifty-four entities and more than 6,000 children participated in the two carnivals.
Child Friendly Schools and Nurseries
To ensure the sustainability of the project’s goals, particularly in schools and nurseries where children spend most of their time studying, playing, engaging in sports and art activities, and building new friendships, Sharjah launched the Child-Friendly Schools and Nurseries initiative in 2019 in collaboration with UNICEF, Sharjah Education Council and Sharjah Private Education Authority. The initiative’s purpose is to progressively move schools and nurseries in Sharjah towards quality global standards, addressing all elements that influence the well-being and rights of a child as a prime beneficiary of the teaching process.
In 2020 SCFO honored 13 schools and 13 nurseries for completing the piloting phase. As part of its pilot phase, public nurseries and private schools in Sharjah were encouraged to promote and advance children’s rights in their standard of education as learners and key beneficiaries.
SCFO launched standards for Child Friendly School and Nurseries at the RewirEd Education Summit at Expo 2020. The standards were guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and experience of UNICEF worldwide, in implementing rights-based approaches to education and evidence pertaining to child development.
A 50-year journey – Sharjah child-friendly infrastructure
In the 1970s, the UAE’s first female guiding movement was established, now known as the ‘Sharjah Girl Guides’. In 1979, Sharjah established a special needs children school and the Child Protection Center in 1984.
In 1985, His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah established the first children’s library, which evolved into children’s centers, targeting those aged 6–12 years. Today, 14 fully operational children’s centers are spread throughout the cities and suburbs of the emirate. The first Children Center was also established in 1985.
The Sharjah Children’s Parliament was inaugurated in 1997 and is still held today under the name ‘Sharjah Children’s Consultative Council’. It is a parliamentary council formed through free elections, with every session held for two consecutive years. Sharjah was the first to implement such a project in the Gulf region and the Middle East.
Youth Centers were launched in 2003 for boys aged 13–18 years with the aim of providing a suitable and safe environment for them to practice their hobbies and develop their talents. Dedicated youth centers were also launched for girls aged 13–18 years in 2004, named ‘Sajaya Young Ladies of Sharjah’, to develop their talents in various creative spaces.
For young boys and girls, a dedicated mock parliamentary body called the ‘Sharjah Youth Consultative Council’ was established in 2005. It is like the Children’s Parliament and consists of 80 members, divided equally between girls and boys, selected through free elections before the start of each session, which is held for two years. During sessions at least four sittings are held, in addition to emergency meetings, sub-meetings and seminars. The first child helpline in UAE was established at Sharjah in 2007.
Sharjah was recognized as a ‘Healthy City’ by WHO in 2015 and 2022.
Sharjah Baby Friendly Emirate
The Sharjah Baby Friendly (SBF) Emirate Project was launched in Sharjah following an Emiri Decree No. (4) 2011 for organizing ‘Sharjah Baby-Friendly Emirate’ Campaign on 8th February 2011. The emirate of Sharjah is the first in the country and region to launch such an innovative public health campaign. Since its launch in 2011, the SBF project has sought to encourage and support a culture of breastfeeding in the emirate. The project succeeded in implementing four community centered initiatives; Baby-Friendly Health Facilities (based on the global Baby-Friendly Hospitals Initiative), Mother-Friendly Workplaces, Breastfeeding-Friendly Nurseries, and Mother and Baby-Friendly Public Places and managed to increase the exclusive breastfeeding rate in Sharjah from the then baseline of 18 percent in 2011 to 60 percent by 2022, exceeding the World Health Assembly’s 2025 global target of 50 percent.
Sharjah is the first emirate to announce maternity leave (90 days of full pay – up from 45 to 60 days previously plus breastfeeding hours for 12 months) in 2014 and served as a model for other cities and emirates on implementing policies that support mothers and a mobile mother room was launched in the same year and is stationed at public places having fairs, exhibitions, and festivities and wherever an onsite mother’s room is not available.
Sharjah’s innovative implementation of the BFHI alongside three community-focused initiatives within a localized context earned Sharjah the world’s first ‘Baby-Friendly City’ title, by UNICEF in 2015.
Sharjah, being innovative in supporting children, mothers, and families, introduced 4 working days week.
In addition to these innovative projects and dedicated children and youth organizations, Sharjah has long been known as a family-friendly emirate for its entertaining destinations that are suitable for all members of the family, and its smoke- and alcohol-free environment.
SCFO scaled up its community based ‘Baby Friendly’ initiatives to ‘Baby & Family Friendly’ in 2023 extending its scope from promoting breastfeeding to a holistic approach of promoting baby & family friendly culture in Sharjah. This upscaled project strategically includes and empowers parents, families, and other caregivers to aid in promoting, protecting, and supporting childhood development. The project will be expanded to include effective interventions, with governance structures to ensure that children’s holistic needs are addressed appropriately.