The Voices of Our Children – An Overview of Children and Adolescent Participation Pt. 1

“We must all work tomake the world worthy of its children” – Pablo Casals

There are those who believe that children have nothing to contribute to the decision-making process. Why would they? In fact they are merely “children.” There are those who believe that children should be seen and not heard. Then there are those who see children as human beings with dignity, and inherent worth and as holders of rights. Children are citizens of a country; with capacity to think and feel much in the same way as their adult counterparts, except for the fact that they are children: a vulnerable population whose fundamental human rights are often violated and ignored by those who objectify them. A child, defined by the Convention on the Rights of the Child – CRC, is any individual below the age of eighteen (18). This definition therefore includes adolescents. Belize, as a signatory to the the Convention on the Rights of the Child, has a duty to respond to the needs of its children and ensure that children are enjoying the full benefit of their rights. As such, the family, political leaders, the media, civil society and the community at large, must respond. Recognizing that children are rights holders does not negate parental support, guidance or supervision. In fact the CRC reinforces the centrality of the family in the lives of children and the role of parents as the protectors of these rights. One of the fundamental principles of the CRC is a child’s right to participation. This principle is expressed through a series of articles within the convention. Article 12, specifically speaks to the child’s right to be listened to and taken seriously in all matters affecting him or her, while Article 13 emphasizes the child’s right to freedom of expression. Article 14 focuses on the child’s right to freedom of conscience, thought and religion; Article 15, the right to freedom of association; Article 16, the right to privacy, Article 17, the right to access information; and Article 29, tehright to education that promotes respect for human rights and democracy. Participation can mean different things in different circumstances and contexts. In its most basic sense, participation is partaking in and influencing processes, decisions and activities. Participation occurs in various forms and based on the age and maturity of that that individual, it can also occur on different levels. It can range from simply being present and being informed to initiating and making key decisions. It includes seeking information, expressing desire to learn at a very young age, forming views and expressing ideas, taking part in activities and processes, being informed and consulted in decision-making, initiating ideas, processes, proposals and projects, analyzing situations and making choices, and respecting others and being treated with dignity. Although a fundamental right, children and adolescents are often denied the opportunities to express their opinions and concerns on matters affecting them. When children are encouraged to express their feelings and talk about issues affecting them, adults will have a better sense of how best to address their needs and how best to protect them. There is often talk about children as future leaders, but leaders do not develop overnight. Developing leadership skills is a process that must be nurtured over time. As such, giving children and adolescents the opportunity to get involved and contribute , cultivates life skills that will empower them now and in the future. Children and adolescent participation allows its beneficiaries to develop greater levels of self-esteem, while gaining greater knowledge of their rights. It improves interpersonal and conflict management skills and prepares children to fulfill their citizenship and leadership roles, thus, enabling them to contribute to the democratic process. Therefore it is the responsibility of Belize, the community on a whole, to facilitate this process and work with children and adolescents to develop mechanism through which they can express themselves. All rights are necessary for the optimal development of individual of the individual. Inability to access any right can have adverse effects. unfortunately, until children’s rights on a whole are valued and respected as inalienable, rather than seen as mere obligations, children’s participation will never be meaningful.

Author: Starla Acosta Bradley

Originally published in Belize Today  #5/Vol 1/2005