Disadvantaged children in urban settings have been largely ignored by policymakers, despite the rapid expansion of cities around the world, a recent report has found.

In its 2012 State of the World's Children report, UNICEF calls on lawmakers to reach out to children growing up in urban poverty who often aren't registered at birth and lack safe shelter as well as sufficient nutrition.

"There is growing evidence that the epicenter of poverty and undernutrition among children is gradually shifting from rural to urban areas," UNICEF Canada's President David Morley said in a prepared statement.

The agency has flagged urban poverty as a growing issue given that the number of children growing up in city settings is expected to skyrocket in the next few decades.

Currently, more than half of the world's population lives in cities. UNICEF estimates that by 2050 that number will rise by two-thirds.

Despite the rapid growth, UNICEF asserts that the plight of children living in urban poverty is being overlooked due to false beliefs about income equality in cities.

"Assumptions are made that proximity to hospitals and schools ensure access but this simply is not true," said Morley.

Among the challenges UNICEF says disadvantaged urban children face:

  • Insufficient access to water and sanitation (i.e. Rising cost of water in slums)
  • Growing hunger and malnutrition rates
  • Heightened risk of road traffic injuries
  • Inadequate shelter (i.e. flimsy homes, unsanitary conditions)
  • Mounting risks of respiratory illness, asthma and lead poisoning
  • Risk of forced labour, child trafficking

Children in urban areas are more likely to survive their early years and, on average, benefit from better health and education. However, according to UNICEF, the gap between the rich and the poor is often more pronounced in cities.

Complicating matters, UNICEF asserts that many children living in urban poverty aren't registered at birth, making them virtually invisible to lawmakers.

For instance, the agency notes that more than one-third of children in urban slum areas go unregistered at birth. This number rises to half of all children in urban parts of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

To remedy the problems that accompany rapid urban growth, UNICEF is urging policymakers to consider disadvantaged children in city-planning decisions.

The State of the World's Children Report is the agency's annual assessment on the wellbeing of children across the globe. Each year, the report focuses on a particular theme. The title of the 2012 report is "Children in an Urban World."

UNICEF operates in 191 countries and territories.