Children around the world are making their voices heard. Europe has often been at the forefront of the promotion, protection and fulfillment of the rights of the child, including the right to participation, but it is fair to say that of all the rights in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), participation is the one where we have made the least progress in terms of realisation.
On November 20th, 2009, Plan launched the “I Have a Voice!” campaign (www.ihaveavoice.eu) with the goal of bringing children’s voices to the European Union, and urging the EU to act on its commitments to engage in meaningful child participation.
As part of this campaign, this report aims to clarify for European policy makers the concept of child participation; summarize existing guidelines for meaningful child participation; provide concrete examples of existing child participation mechanisms linking to government in Europe and around the world; and finally provide recommendations for the European institutions on how to move forward with ensuring meaningful child participation at the EU level.
Around the world, children are participating. They are fighting discrimination, poverty, and violence and they are making lasting changes in their communities. In the last 20 years, with almost universal ratification of the UNCRC, attention to the participation of children is growing in a wide range of areas, including health promotion, education, judicial systems, environmental campaigns, disaster risk reduction, research, and consultations on child abuse and exploitation.
There are many excellent examples of meaningful child participation structures and mechanisms that link children to government at the local and national level. The European Union can draw from these examples to ensure children’s voices are heard in EU decisions which affect them.
This would serve to increase their immediate engagement with children, and act as a guide for developing new structures where they don’t already exist.
Structures and levels of participation will vary depending on the European Union institutions and the decision-making processes concerned, but what is critical to ensure meaningful participation is that engagement is part of a long-term commitment to engage with children and ensure their views and opinions are heard.