Young people who live in a large city in our country, when they need to travel to go to their school, university, work, a medical visit or simply to have fun, have the opportunity to choose between various means of transportation. They can travel by shared bicycle, scooter, bus, subway, even - depending on the city - tram... Furthermore, going from one place to another does not mean they have to navigate dangerous situations. However, this is not the case in other latitudes. For Lara, for example, the situation is much more complicated.
This 19-year-old girl who lives in São Paulo spends, every day, more than four hours on public transportation, going to university and returning home, and she also does so with an inevitable feeling of risk. The lack of safe and affordable mobility options, aggravated by the high levels of violence and insecurity, causes many young people in large cities in Brazil - such as the aforementioned São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, and, especially, in the areas and neighborhoods least connected of these - see their educational, work and recreational opportunities drastically limited. And all this, obviously, ends up having an impact on their health and well-being, and also on the opportunities they have and their future prospects.
Social organizations, together with the private sector, can play an essential role in alleviating these difficulties, contributing positively to building a more egalitarian society, where there are opportunities for growth and development for an increasing number of people. For this reason, the Abertis Foundation has been working decisively since 2017 in alliance with Unicef to support a series of projects aimed at guaranteeing the right to safer and more effective mobility for 6,000 children and young people in Brazil. The transportation difficulties that occur in Brazilian metropolises significantly affect several fundamental rights of young people, such as access to education and employment, medical care or access to social services.
The situation is especially pressing in one of the places where the alliance between the Abertis Foundation and Unicef intensively focuses its activity: Cidade Tiradentes, the second district of São Paulo, where the average duration of trips is 1 hour and 9 minutes, the highest of all; which is 62% more than the city average. Nearly 71,500 children and adolescents who live in this area must deal daily with numerous mobility problems, such as poor connections with the rest of the city, lack of road signs, dangerous roads or overcrowding in public transport, in addition to insecurity, and the risk of violence and discrimination.
This causes – as Adriana Alvarenga, interim coordinator of the Southeast Territory of Unicef Brazil – explains, multiple “difficulties in accessing health, education and leisure facilities in different parts of the city, even within the territories where they live.” To prevent all these obstacles from ending up obstructing the possibilities of young people in the future, it is essential to develop “public policies that prioritize childhood and adolescence, coordination between different actors and, above all, listening to the boys and girls themselves. who face these challenges every day,” says Alvarenga.
With the aim of effectively reversing the current situation, the projects promoted by the Abertis Foundation and Unicef mobilize and involve adolescents and young people in these territories in the discussion about how to achieve safer and more sustainable mobility. Both organizations are clear that having the participation, commitment and vision of those affected is essential to generate a systemic change that can also positively impact young people in other cities in the country. For this reason, a prominent group of children under 19 years of age in the area is already leading debates on road safety and urban mobility.
They address various topics such as, for example, the right of access to the city, the link between urban mobility and inequality of opportunities, or the effects that transportation limitations have on their mental health and the creation of new life opportunities. . At the moment, adolescents have already proposed various changes to make their way to school safer, which will be implemented at the municipal level. Likewise, other safe urban mobility improvements continue to be promoted, in collaboration with public authorities, with the aim that more young people can benefit.
During her visit to learn about the progress in all these projects on the ground, Georgina Flamme, director of the Abertis Foundation, did not hesitate to affirm that “the private sector must be a relevant actor to face the great social challenges” and confirmed the firm commitment of Abertis to help in this direction in a country where the company is present: “We are proud to see the positive impact that our strategic alliance with Unicef is generating in the large metropolises of Brazil, to reduce the rates of childhood injuries and deaths from traffic accidents, and promote inclusive mobility for all.”
The executive director of Unicef Spain, José María Vera, for his part, stressed that “thanks to the alliance we maintain with the Abertis Foundation, we are promoting in Brazil the creation of safer and more sustainable environments for children and young people – for example , on their way to school or to the study center–, and we are also promoting the improvement of standards and legislation regarding road safety” in the country.
Luwei Pearson, Deputy Director of Maternal, Newborn and Adolescent Health at Unicef, points out that “Unicef is working with governments and allies to improve safe mobility in the world and, thanks to institutions such as the Abertis Foundation, is taking measures to improve well-being and the survival of all the children of the world.” The final objective is that the possibility of having access to those places essential for their academic, health and leisure development, in a safe way, "is a reality for all children."
The problem of injuries and deaths due to accidents while traveling currently accounts for almost 1.3 million lives per year, at all ages and on a global scale. Likewise, this is the main cause of death among children and adolescents between 5 and 19 years old worldwide. As Luwei Pearson points out, “children and young people have the right to a safe and healthy environment, also when they travel to school, their homes and their communities on a daily basis.” However, the truth is that every two minutes on our planet, a minor under 19 years of age loses their life due to trauma caused by a traffic accident, which means, in total, more than 200,000 deaths per year that could be avoided.
We must not forget that these high figures cause a great impact on public health. On the other hand, injuries resulting from these accidents often represent enormous financial burdens for the victims and their families, caused by the costs of medical treatment and also by the logical losses of productivity and income of the injured people. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in low- and middle-income countries, 97% of deaths from this cause involve children and adolescents under 19 years of age.
In addition to the work carried out jointly in Brazil, the alliance between Unicef and the Abertis Foundation is developing a series of actions to guarantee safer and more sustainable mobility for the youngest people in India. Likewise, it will work to promote access to STEM careers (a series of studies related to science and technology) for girls and young people in Mexico; all of this, with the ultimate goal of reducing the impact of injuries due to traffic accidents in these age segments. Since 2017, the alliance has already contributed to improving the safety of 267,000 children and young people in countries with high road safety risk rates.
Lara and Gustavo are two of the young residents in the district with the greatest mobility problems in São Paulo who have been involved in the project.
“To get to my university I use four means of transportation: two buses, the subway and a train. I spend between four and four and a half hours a day on transportation, coming and going, more time than I spend inside the classroom. It takes me longer to get there and back than I am in class. So I move more than I study and I often have to study on public transport.”
“When young people unite, when we mobilize, we can change things, we can bring demands to public authorities. Whether they will be heard is another story, but having the notion that we have a voice and that we can advance these demands is important.”