What is participation?
Participation in simple terms means to take part in something (Hornby 1995: 844). When referring to children’s rights, the concept is far broader. It is much more than simply asking children for their ideas or opinions. It is about listening to, respecting and understanding children, working in partnership with them, giving children the opportunity to actively make decisions that will result in their ideas becoming reality and their contributions bringing about positive change (Ministry of Social Development 2003).
Children’s participation is a right not an optional extra (Participation Works 2012). The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) promotes a rights-based approach to children and states that these rights begin at birth (Alderson 2008: 83). Many of the 54 articles encompass child participation. Articles 6, 7 and 8 refer to a child’s right to life, to a name and to an identity (Unicef n.d). The right to a life, to be a part of society, to participate as a part of the human race make all other rights achievable (Alderson 2008). Article 7 states that every child should have a name and their name should be respected. Giving a child a name and an identity is recognising the child as a unique individual rather than the property of a parent or carer (Alderson 2008: 79).
One of the key articles that promote child participation is Article 12:
‘state parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with age and maturity of the child’ (Alderson 2008: 87).
Article 12 is about giving children the right to express their views and having them heard. This means actively listening to children by allowing them to communicate their thoughts, feelings or ideas and know that they will be taken on board and respected (Scott et al 2008: 51). There are many whom are critical of this article and are concerned that it may be interpreted in such a way as to manipulate certain situations (Scott et al 2008: 51). The article states that the views of the child will be given due weight in accordance with age and maturity (Alderson 2008: 87). Some feel this may mean that children under a certain age may not be taken seriously nor have their views heard (Scott et al 2008). Alderson believes that babies and very young children are able to express themselves in various ways and get great joy from making choices (2008: 88).
The UNCRC outlines child’s rights which protect children and promote welfare (Alderson 2008: 78). These rights illustrate how children and young people can actively participate and contribute to society (Alderson 2008: 78).
Childhood has changed significantly and this is primarily due to an alteration in society’s view of children rather than the children themselves (Miller 2003: 14).
Children have become the main focus in many households with parents and carers feeling the need to provide for their children in such a way that results in children feeling powerless (Miller 2003: 14). Adults may have a childhood ideal and attempt to enforce this onto their children. This may be an act of love but can do more harm than good (Miller 2003: 14). Adults may make decisions on a child’s behalf to spare them responsibility or by thinking the child is not capable of making those decisions. However this may result in a child feeling as if they have no control over their own life and may remain dependent rather than becoming confident and independent (Miller 2003:14). Decisions that may appear to be insignificant to adults such as what a child wears or what food they can eat, where they go to school or who they are allowed to play with are all extremely important and impact massively on the child’s life (Miller 2003: 15).
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