The New Urban Agenda, to which Pakistan is a signatory, ensures a safe urban environment “without fear of violence and intimidation, taking into consideration that women and girls, and children and youth, and persons in vulnerable situations are particularly affected”.The brutal rape and killing of eight-year-old Zainab in Kasur has exposed the extreme vulnerability of children, the women and the disabled in our cities. In this connection, the middle and small cities seem to be as exposed as the mega urban centres. The eruption of violence in its aftermath puts a question mark on the state’s ability to meet the governance challenges in the complex and rapid urbanisation process currently going on in this part of the world. Even though the organised crime and mafias are at loose in metropolitan areas, street crime and societal repression is on the rise in towns and small cities as they expand in size and population. The media, politicians and the public are expressing their concerns about the escalation of such incidents across the country. Some are taking it as individual acts, which must be dealt with ‘exemplary punishment’ while others see it with a political lens and blame the government for the crisis of governance. A few others are also lamenting the breakdown of moral values in a ‘terminally ill society’. The overall social sentiment is of disappointment on the performance of law enforcing agencies and an unrealistic expectation from the judiciary and even the armed forces.There is however, a need to analyse the nature, pattern and causes of crime in our cities scientifically to make them safe for all. Most of our cities and their governance structures have been designed for a much smaller population where social systems and governance structures provided a safeguard against petty and small-scale crimeFirst, most of our cities and their governance structures have been designed for a much smaller small population where social systems and governance structures provided a safeguard against petty and small-scale crime. With the exponential demographic and spatial growth of cities, these informal structures have quickly fallen apart, without getting a replacement in the form of community policing or other formal management systems.Secondly, most of the urban growth after independence has occurred without adhering to city and town planning principles. Proper neighbourhood design, street lighting system, safe footpaths, playgrounds and open spaces are some of the luxuries that most Pakistanis think we cannot afford. Third, the state has failed to create enough economic opportunities in cities to engage the so-called youth bulge in productive activities, giving rise to frustration and violence.Fourth, the institutional capacity of local governments to prevent, investigate or prosecute the criminals remain awfully flawed, leaving empty space for forlorn eccentrics and organised gangs to commit crimes without any fear of punishment. Finally, rape and other kinds of sexual violence is on the rise in spite of the increasing religiosity of urban middle class because of an unequal thrust and an imbalance between religious rituals and ethics in society.The result is that the children’s right to play and grow has been seriously compromised in cities of all sizes in Pakistan while crimes against children are constantly on the rise. According to a recent report published by a local NGO Sahil, 11 cases of child abuse per day are reported in Pakistan on an average and there has been 10 percent increase in the number of such incidents in 2017 as compared to 2016.In such a suffocating environment for children, we can expect to raise nothing but a whole new generation of stunted minds and bodies, prone to all kinds of vicious activities and extremism of all ilk and sort. World Vision, an international NGO working on child’s rights has developed a framework for developing safer cities for children. The framework identifies strategic pillars and enablers for urban change for safer urban environment for children of all ages. According to the said framework, the city authorities must develop social cohesion among diverse communities while improving the quality of governance and built environment at the same time. They must develop citywide partnerships with stakeholders to utilise the existing and new technologies and ensure that ‘urban planning and design is inclusive, participatory and responsive to the needs and solutions of the most vulnerable groups in urban settings’.Some urban experts go even beyond this. They are proponents of a National Play Strategy to embed these policy pointers within the regulatory frameworks for a broad range of sectors including urban planning, traffic management, education and health systems and policing. They also propose the establishment of planning groups within every municipal to run training programs for the staff of relevant departments on how the public realm can be made better and safer for all vulnerable groups especially children.Piecemeal reactive measures to individual incidents like the present one in Kasur city cannot reduce or restrict violence against children. A consistent policy response to enforce a comprehensive set of solutions, encompassing every aspect of child safety is needed. This includes safety from abuse, neglect and exploitation, urban violence and conflict, and natural disasters and built environment. No doubt, “urban safety is a multi-dimensional challenge and safer cities is a complex aspiration”.The writer works as Team Leader, Sustainable Cities Initiative at LEAD Pakistan and can be reached at email@example.comPublished in Daily Times, January 14th 2018.