Project proposal 'Cairo's children pay to play'


Cairo is one of the world’s densest cities, (greater) Cairo inhabiting around 19 million people, of which around 32% - 6 million - is under 14[1]. Public space is limited. Spaces open to public without entrance fees are hard to find in Cairo, let alone green spaces. The majority of public space has been privatized. True public spaces specially serving the needs of children are simply non-existent in Cairo. The privileged Cairenes go to their clubs, but where can the vast majority of children play? Should Cairo children pay to play?

General background: In April 2013 the Committee on Children’s Rights of the United Nations expressed their concern by the general poor recognition given to article 31: the right to play[2]. Playing is an underestimated need of children in urban environments. Free and active play benefits physical, cognitive and social development. A more child friendly public space would not only result in safe places for children to play and meet in, it would also stimulate a more active lifestyle, fighting the increasing numbers of overweight children and women (global problem, but in urban Egypt extremely high). Inclusion of children’s needs in public space, contributes to the empowerment of children, their citizen participation and sense of belonging to their city. The United Nations emphasize the need to create time and space for children to engage in spontaneous play (…), and to promote societal attitudes that encourage such activity.

Situation: In Cairo, the poor recognition for the right to play for all children is striking. The clubs are the only places with spaces designated for play; membership is unaffordable for the vast majority. In the densest areas of Cairo, inhabiting 65% of Cairo’s children, there are – apart from a few football courts for which children have to pay to play – simply no places designated for children or play.

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Objectives: 1. Realization a child friendly neighborhood as a pilot project, in which numerous small spaces designated for children to play, can be found. These have been realized in close cooperation with children, community based organizations, local groups or youth workers, by reclaiming small (semi) public pocket lands, turning them into playable areas with simple but effective DIY play structures. 2.  Raise awareness amongst children and their caretakers about children’s right to play, about the benefits of (active and free) play and about the lack of space to play in Cairo. The pilot project, an online source and different events will raise attention. The project uses the current (post-revolutionary) tendency: numerous civil initiatives where Cairo citizens take matters concerning public space into their own hands[3].

Because of Cairo’s high density, the project does not aim for ‘classic’ large playgrounds, but it aims to create a citizen mobilization, reclaiming small ‘pocketspaces’ for children.


  1. Desk research General review of existing research on the right to play for children inhabiting megacities in general, and Cairo specifically; a review of the current policy on children and their right to play in Cairo public space. The research will focus on where Cairo’s children actually play and what they need to increase physical activity in daily life.
  2. Field research, the research will focus on where Cairo’s children actually play and what they need to increase physical activity in daily life. Will be combined with the pilot project, participatory action research.
  3. A pilot project in one of the ‘informal areas’ (to be decided), informal areas house approximately 65% of Cairenes, a mixed population, but including Cairo’s most marginalized children, their urban structure is rather equal.
  4. Integrate local government, policy makers, community based organizations, citizen groups and youth workers
  5. Quantitative and qualitative mapping of the child friendly aspects of the area to investigate current situation of the area and the potential places for interventions. Children themselves will play an active part in this research as both contributors and researchers; participatory action research might be the most suitable method. The children will be the (co-)owners of the projects in their own direct neighborhood.
  6. Design and implement interventions with children, civil society, youth workers or local NGO’s to reclaim play space.
    1. Raising awareness through a website and a printed book, aimed at children and their caretakers.  Containing: (a.) information on The Right to play and the benefits of active play; (b.) showing the reality, the lack of play space in Cairo; and (c.) Toolkit with stimulating examples in a Do It Yourself catalogue how to take action. By realizing examples from the catalogue communities can gain play place in their direct environment. Pictures from the playspaces created in the pilot project, will be posted for the catalyzing effect good examples can have.
    2. Citizen mobilization by urban intervention is a key aspect of the project. A large unexpected urban intervention, will grab the attention of citizens and media: Imagine a swing-hanging event and kite distribution, brightly colored swings dangling in unexpected public places will provoke questions about the ownership of public space and will start the discussion about play space for children. With the internet address sprayed on the swings and kites they function as advertisements for the website/ action. These actions will be followed up with meetings in the community, engaging with local structures.

Outcome / result: Cairo’s children, citizens and local government are aware of the importance of article 31, the right to play for children’s well-being and development. They are also more aware of the lack of play space in Cairo. Communities, children and civil society know how to regain (small) pocket of lands and how to turn them into play space by simple interventions. They will take initiatives realizing more play spaces in their direct environment, where possible in collaboration with local authorities. The interventions spread by the website will function as replicable examples, increasing citizen mobilization.


[1] ESCA, UN, demographic profile of Egypt, 2010

[2] United Nations, Conventions on the right of the child, General comment No. 17 (2013), 17 - 4- 2013

[3] E.g. “who rules the street in Cairo? The residents who build it” NYtimes, M Kimmelman, 27 april 2013.  “Operation Coloring thru corruption”, Daily news Egypt, 21-2-2012, Cairo graffiti for a social cause at