Rampant unplanned urbanisation in Dhaka city has left very little space for children to play. This directly hampers their cognitive and physical development, writes Faria Ejaj.
In Dhaka city, kids are hardly seen playing their hearts out in an open field. If seen, then they are under parents’ tight speculation in different gaming schools with specific formats. But is this the real means of playing which helps in children’s overall development? Years of studies say that it’s obviously not. Guarded by parents, limited space, no attachment with nature, bombarded with rules and regulations and absence of free spirited attitude do not let them getting the zest of actual intention of playing. Hence, it causes hindrances in physical, mental, cognitive, emotional and all in all development of children.
How many Dhaka parents know about importance of allowing children to play freely? Majority of people in Dhaka city don’t even know that how important role outdoor gaming can have on a child’s development, let alone understanding the insight of it. Mostly, parents in urban areas are worried about academic results of their children. Their desperation for children’s studies is so acute that after school children are forced to take extra coaching classes. And these extra classes leave them with no time to play. Undoubtedly, this scenario depicts that it’s high time to educate the parents about necessity of playing for the children. I have done a survey to know about the view of parents on effects of children’s playing. And the outcomes are basis of this article.
From the graph it can be summarised that most parents do not consider playing as a definite activity for their children. When asked, whether they know or not about how playing influences their children’s overall development, their reaction was as following. A large number of parents think that playing is important for relaxation of their children but do not think this is an absolutely must practice for the kids’ mental growth. Moreover, big numbers of parents think that playing is only important for their physical health and it has nothing to do with children’s mental health and development.
The total area of Dhaka city is 306.4 square kilometers with approximately 18 million residents. And 48 per cent of this population is children below 18. Unfortunately, for this huge number of children there are only 148 playgrounds and 27 parks. There are no parks for the children to play within several blocks radius from where I live. Moreover, most of the playgrounds don’t even have touch of nature, let alone having proper arrangements for playing.
Even if there are some swings and slippers, either the chains of the swings are torn or the slippers are unsafe because of sharp edges. Generally in the afternoon, children can be seen playing. But that too guarded by their parents, grandparents, siblings or housemaids. This scenario makes sense in a way that these playgrounds are not safe for children. Moreover; intimate couples, vendors, sex workers and drug dealers or users are seen.
Lata, mother of 12 years Araf, had a word with me while accompanying her boy to the playground. She came here to guard Araf while he was playing. They live in the neighborhood, five minutes walking distance from the playground. I asked her that why she came to guard her son in playground. She replied, ‘just have a look around and you will understand that why I come along with my child. It’s not safe at all. Still Araf persists on playing when he watches all these kids playing here. So, I have no other option, but to keep his wish’. The number of children playing there was too few compared to their actual number. Talking to a park guard, I came to know that there are approximately 150 children in the area. But only about 15-20 children come here to play.
For investigating further, I went to residences to talk to parents. Almost all of them prefer their kids playing indoor games. According to them, even if the playground is 5-10 minutes away from home, still it’s not convincing to send the kids as the roads are not safe. Reckless drivers, child lifters and manholes without lid make them concerned about their kids. Some kids play on the rooftop. But parents or elders always remain there to keep an eye on them. In some streets and lanes children do play, mostly cricket. But the movement of vehicle brings interruption and it’s risky for them as well.
I have visited some six-seven playgrounds personally for the writing. Surprisingly, I hardly saw any girl playing there. Shusmi, a little girl playing in a playground said that it was the last day she took her daughter to the playground. As she felt insecurity for her daughter and the playground is not child friendly at all. So, she got Shushmi admitted in a sports club. Her mother thinks that she will be safe their and her wish of playing will be fulfilled. In the parks and playgrounds, children from economically solvent background are rarely or not seen playing.
Most of the play ground’s land is unsafe. Hence children often meet accidents while playing. One of the vital accidents caused death of a four year child called Jihad, while he was playing next to the playground of a residential colony. He fell into a 14-inch wide pipe of an adjacent abandoned deep tube well. After hours of efforts, he was rescued from the pipe but by then he was already dead. Even this tragic incident couldn’t influence any activation regarding worse condition of playgrounds.
Saad, a seven year old kid passes his free time playing basketball in his veranda, watching cartoon and playing video games in his parent’s cellphone. ‘I have seen my favorite cartoon character flying kite from an open field. I also want to do the same like him, but there is no such open field around’, said Saad. He was also saying that how he would run to and forth if he would have exposure to this kind of field. Then 10-12 children playing in a playground were interviewed asking how they want their playground to be. They wanted more playing stuffs like swing and slipper, dedicated place for cricket and football, a proper shade and sanitation. Some 6-8 years children were also wishing to have things out of their imagination. For example -- tree house, bungee jumping and lot more.
Convention on the Rights of the Child CRC adopted by the United Nations in 1989 first recognised children’s right to play. An article of the CRC addressed the responsibility of the state to ensure an enabling environment according to culture and age. The CRC also acknowledged children’s right to play and as leisure activities. This signifies adequate time for leisure along with the provision of safe and appropriate space within communities. Around the world, there have been many endeavours to involve children in the development of their own physical environments. Of them the most two far-reaching commencements in this regard are the child friendly city initiative by UNICEF and UNESCO’s growing up in cities project. So, these actions should be implemented and promoted properly to make sure everyone knows and become aware of the fact that how important is outdoor playing for children’s overall development.
Institution, local, community, area and building wise play space allocation should be mandated by the urban planning department and capital development authority. Managers of playground and parks, child psychology specialists, developers of real estate, capital and urban development concerns, area, community and local heads should come together with ideas of how they can mend the issue. Involvement of children in this planning and discussion is also needed, as they can sort out the actual problem they face and say what actually they want.
Faria Ejaj is a student of North South University
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