Child participation is one of the core principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Article 12 of the convention recognizes that children have a right to be heard. According to UNICEF, Child and youth participation in the informed and voluntary involvement of children including those from marginalized groups, children of different ages, and different abilities; in issues that affect them directly and indirectly.
Children’s participation, therefore, is about children having the opportunity to express a view, influence decision-making, and achieve change. It is the informed and willing involvement of children, including the most marginalized and those of different ages and abilities, in any matter concerning them (Save the Children, 2005). There are a number of reasons why child participation is important. These include:
- Child participation enriches the development of children and youth by contributing to their knowledge and skill development, confidence, and motivation and hence increasing their self-esteem.
- Furthermore, it has a positive impact on community engagement and active citizenship. Children can co-decide on matters that affect them directly.
- Children have a right to be heard and they have the right to access information.
- Involving children helps deliver better decisions and necessary services for children. Children contribute more relevant and better-informed responses, solutions, and outcomes that address the best interests of the child.
- It also raises their awareness of their rights by developing and improving protection and advocacy skills.
Nevertheless, it is not practical to engage each and every child in decision-making. Efforts should be made to ensure each child has equal opportunities to participate or be represented in making decisions that affect them. Selecting children to be involved in child participation needs to consider representations on gender, child’s age including both older and younger children, ethnicity, children with special needs, religious background, social and economic background, school attendance, rural or urban area residence, According to FHI (2009),
Children’s participation must aim to be:
- Voluntary: children should never be forced to participate; they don’t have to answer any questions or join in any activities if they don’t want to. This should be made clear to them at the beginning of the program. Written consent by the child and his /her guardian ensure this principle is observed.
- Informed: children and their guardians should know the background, purpose, risk, and possible outcomes of their participation before they can decide whether or not to participate. This can be provided through explanation, texts, tape recordings, visual media, posters, and presentations.
- Meaningful: participation should have a realistic and constructive purpose that benefits all children including the vulnerable children.
- Respectful: participating children should feel that their contributions are valid and their concerns are listened to. This also means that information provided by children should only be shared with other people with clear consent from the, on how and with whom it is shared.
- Safe: the activities, venue, or methodologies used should not put children or adults in danger of physical, psychological, or emotional harm.