Day of General Discussion: Working group 2 discussion on children as active participants in society

Members of the panel for this working group:

  • Facilitators: Norberto Liwski, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Carolyne Willow, Child Rights Alliance for England (CRAE)
  • Chairperson: Joyce Alouch, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child
  • Rapporteurs: Lee Yanghee, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Young Person


Carolyne Willow opened the discussion by saying that a few years ago, an eleven-year-old boy from England said “You’re only a child because you can’t be born and adult”. This communicates how children are made to feel insignificant and powerless. Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) asserts children’s personhood. It establishes without a doubt that children are people, and that they must be respected as such. Article 12 is the only article of any human rights treaty that gives children the right to be heard in all situations. It also communicates how the world could be if children were seen as complete and full human beings since the day they were born.

Ms Willow asked that in today’s working group, participants focus on what is helping to transform relationships between children and adults, what is helping to change attitudes towards children, what is changing decision making, and what is bringing about change. She asked that participants think about this in group and institutional settings, in political decision making, and in children and young people’s inclusion in the media. Article 12 is for every single child so children from all backgrounds and circumstances should have the chance to speak and explain how they have brought about change.

It is also important to consider the rights of babies. Life begins at birth, therefore babies and younger children also have the right to participate. She urged participants to talk in straightforward language that everyone can take things from. Those with direct experience should take priority in the discussions. Finally, she said, the Committee on the Rights of the Child will produce a General Comment on the child’s right to be heard, a really important document which will be used by governments to implement the articles and principles on the Convention and for this, they need contributions and ideas.  

Norberto Liwski: Liwski urged everyone to encourage States to be more responsible, to comply with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and help the Committee to work more effectively. He made four main points:

First, there are three elements which define a human rights convention: universality, indivisibility, and the fact that the rights that are included in the Conventions can be demanded. He underscored the importance of the multicultural composition of this meeting, saying that no culture should feel left out.  

Secondly, he said, we must look at the construction of citizenship in children and teenagers. Only reaching out to the academic world which does things in an adult-centric way does not look at what springs from the experience of children. He underscored the importance of the experience of young people to help us deepen the concepts that exist in this area.

Thirdly, rights must be ensured. Member States must secure the fulfilment of rights and put in place conditions so that all young people are properly protected. They must do this with assistance from civil society.   

Finally, there is a need to reconceptualise participation and what is meant by participation. All too often, participation is a tokenistic add-on that is not accompanied by changes in institutional practices and the day-to-day life of families and institutions. We must ensure that there is an ongoing fight against social exclusion and poverty and that children and young people are involved in this. He paid tribute to organisations of working children in Peru which, 10 years before the Convention, were already working to have their rights recognised. Beyond Latin America, many movements have also left their mark on history. The Convention began a new relationship between states and societies, forming a new social pact between society and young people.

Open discussion 

Magali, Bolivia, representing the children’s parliament in Bolivia. One of the main achievements of the children’s parliament has been to ensure that all children can receive a birth certificate free of charge. They are able to participate in a very active fashion in politics. They can meet at our local level to submit proposals to local government. Once the proposals are submitted, they can submit them at the national level so that members of parliament can back them. 

Chris Gardiner, International Foster Care Organisation, SOS Kinderdorff International, Quality4Children Rights: Chris Gardiner gave an example of good practice in the care system. Of the 33 children here, not one is without parental care. He urged participants not to forget children who are living apart from their families. He mentioned the Quality4Children project in which children have been consulted using story-telling methods of research to bring about recommendations, which will be published in December. He asked that we don’t get stuck on the age of 18. Many young people in care find it hard to talk about their experiences in care until older when they have left feelings of anger behind and have had a chance to reflect. He urged that we talk to children in care.

Sarah Boyce, Children’s Law Centre, Save the Children - Northern Ireland shared a good news story. A statutory equality duty (Section 75) has been established for local authorities. This duty arose out of the peace process in the 1990s. This ensures that children have the right to participate in policies that affect them. Local authorities have to quality impact assess their policies. They have to find out what the views of young people are and look at whether policies will have a negative impact on young people. This duty is pro-active; it is built-in rather than bolted on, although there is still a need for a robust enforcement mechanism.

A girl from India spoke about her involvement in awareness-raising projects for immunisation and sanitation through media tools such as comics and videos. She said they tell their elders about it, but they do not listen, they think they know best. She asked the experts here how they can make them listen.  

A boy from Bolivia spoke of his work with World Vision, which is working with indigenous communities and training people in rural areas of Bolivia. Once they are trained, they set up groups and go to the children’s parliament where rights are discussed and proposals are submitted to the government, such as the right to a free birth certificate. NGOs have given follow-up to these proposals. He also spoke about the Fifth Ibero-American Summit in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, which discussed the rights of indigenous children and indigenous children expressed their own views in their own languages. 

Laura from Barnados in Northern Ireland spoke of her work to help stop the bullying of disabled children through lobbying for legislation against hate crimes. She also spoke of the fast-track passport for hospitals: those who hold a fast-track passport cannot wait in waiting rooms for a long time, so this passport gives them a fast-track see a doctor. 

Rapporteur: The UN will adopt a General Comment on children with disabilities. A new Convention on Disabilities will be presented to the General Assembly next month, Article 7 is dedicated to children.

UNICEF representative, Swaziland. In Swaziland, UNICEF has helped to form child protection committees in schools which are made up of children as children often feel more comfortable talking to children than adults. They have also involved children in research, to find out why children are not in school. About a third of these children out of school were orphans or poor children. This has forced the government to review its approach to education and they now have grants for these children.

A representative of the Norweigian Youth Council commented that children’s participation is neglected in poverty-reduction strategy papers. Forty-eight per cent of the world’s population is under 25, most are in developing countries, so they should have a say in these papers.  

Laura, Barnardos, Northern Ireland said that she feels that disabled young people should be involved in decision-making even if they have communication difficulties. This can be done through special IT, art and drama, and that there is a need for participation workers across Northern Ireland as, at the moment, there are very few. Also, the government should run transport so that disabled young people can go to places, speak and participate.

Junita Upadhyay, Child and Youth Participation Officer, ECPAT International commented that children in socially and economically disadvantaged situtations are more prone to exploitation and often experience added levels of discrimination and marginalization. Ensuring participation of these children requires systematic and deliberate design of structures and machanisms that will open concrete pathways for their substantive and sustained involvement in the judicial and legal proceedings and in society at large. ECPAT recognizes the importance of the CRC and the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Pornography and Child Prostitution as effective mechanisms to realize the rights of children to protect against sexual exploitation. Therefore, ECPAT calls on the Committee to work effectively with governments to improve access and use of the reporting procedures of the Optional Protocol at the local and national levels especially to those hard to reach children who are at risk or are victims of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking.

A girl from Sweden said that participation isn’t about age or experiences, many children feel excluded from decision making. Sometimes they form proposals but these are not taken into account. There should not be a minimum age for participation and for gaining respect. If they were clueless they would not be here today.

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