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City children study

Academics studying children in eight cities worldwide seek to discover what it really means to be a child of the city. Experiences in the first years of life shape a person’s lifelong development, says Manuel Eisner, Wolfson Professor at Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology. “If we want to understand the roots of adversity that lead a nation to violence and turmoil, we need to understand how it incubates in a child of that society.

“For example, what does a child in Kingston experience – even before birth – that may increase the risk of failure at school, or mental and physical health problems, or criminality and substance use? How does that compare with children in the cities of South Africa, or East Asia?”

Eisner and colleagues on the Evidence for Better Lives Study (EBLS) intend to follow 12,000 children yet to be born in eight cities in Jamaica, Ghana, South Africa, Romania, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and the Philippines. He pointed to the United Nation’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. “The EBLS is our response to this challenge. It will provide important evidence for system-level changes to tackling violence against children. But it can also shine light on how violence evolves. If we want to address high levels of violence in a city like Kingston, we need to know the ages when active ingredients are added to young people’s development. Then we can design the right intervention strategies.”

Covered will be psychology, sociology, paediatrics, nutrition, public health and criminology. Eisner said” “We want to bring together different layers of explanation from social structures like gender inequality and trust in public institutions to the ways in which exposure to violence affects brain development even before the child is born, so interdisciplinary research is essential.

“By comparing a new generation from each city, we can build a scientific backbone for interventions to prevent violence against children, and boost child wellbeing initiatives that work in different global contexts.”

Approaches being discussed include use of microphone vests to pick up levels of hostility in ambient noise around children, and games using puppets to gauge the early development of a sense of fairness and justice.

Eisner set up the Violence Research Centre at Cambridge in 2014. For more visit

Meanwhile, the Inquiry on Protecting Children in Conflict, chaired by the former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, is calling for immediate action to tackle attacks on schools, denial of humanitarian aid, sexual violence against children and other atrocities. An estimated 350 million children – one child in every six – live amidst conflict, an increase of 75 per cent from the 200 million of the early 1990s. UN data shows an increase in reports of grave violations against children in war zones, including the killing and maiming of children, attacks on schools and hospitals, abduction, and denial of humanitarian assistance.

The inquiry’s 500-page report analyses legal provisions and institutions, including the Geneva Conventions, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Rome Statute, which set up the International Criminal Court. It concludes that the international system of rules designed to uphold the rights of civilians in war is failing to protect children living in conflict-affected countries.


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