Participation is a fundamental part of citizenship. It is the process by which children and young people can influence decision-making which affects their lives to bring about positive change.
Participation is not solely the act of expressing an opinion and having that opinion taken seriously, but of being able to construct that opinion freely through accessing information and meeting and debating with others. All of these rights are detailed in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The convention says that all children should enjoy these rights without discrimination because of their race, gender, religion or any other basis.
Article 12, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
States 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 the age and maturity of the child.
For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.
In 2009 the Committee issued a General Comment on children’s right to be heard. The General Comment lays out in detail expectations on governments to take steps to protect, respect and fulfil children’s right to be heard. Participation is a guiding principle of the UNCRC, meaning that not only is it a right in itself, but a principle which should inform every other right in the UNCRC.
Participation rights are also detailed in other human right treaties for specific groups, including disabled children and young women, and in regional treaties including the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) (incorporated into UK law through the Human Rights Act (1998)).
In 2010, Participation Works published Listen and Change – an introductory guide to children’s participation rights. The guide explains that as well as offering minimum legal guarantees to children on how they can express their views freely and be taken seriously by adults, the UNCRC offers a set of values which should guide all work with children. Key features of a rights based approach to children and young people’s participation are:
- Participation results in action and change
- Participation is a right, not an optional extra
- Participation is a right for all
- Participation has no minimum age
- Participation is voluntary
- Participation aids the achievement of other human rights
- Participation is not controlled solely by adults
Listen and Change is available in our resources section.
In 2011 Save the Children published Every Child's Right to be Heard a resource guide on the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment No.12.