The recognition of children’s right to give their opinions to adults making decisions on their behalf was one of the innovations of the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 12, in which this right is enshrined, was identified by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, at its first session, as one of the fundamental principles of the Convention. One result has been increasing pressure on international bodies to include children in international meetings at which their welfare and rights are discussed, with many examples of successful inclusion of Under-18 delegates in public debates. Indeed, children were a positive force during the Committee on the Rights of the Child Day of General Discussion on Article 12, in October 2006.
These processes should be – and usually are – beneficial to children. Nevertheless, some experiences have been less successful than others and it has been suggested that children’s right to participate in events and meetings may be achieved at the expense of other rights, particularly their rights to be protected from risk and harm. Although children’s presence in meetings has been extensively described, the processes through which their safety, health and effective participation have been assured have been less-well-documented.
Thus, the publication of the minimum standards for children’s participation in events and meetings away from their home base is particularly welcome, especially as it includes a detailed operations manual containing practical guidance about how to achieve these standards, from the first invitation to a meeting to follow-up activities after children return home. This is a major contribution to global efforts to increase the quality and effectiveness of children’s participation, based on systematic experiences in preparing children for meetings, facilitating representative selection of children, ways of involving them in adult discussions, modes of facilitating their contributions and including these in outcome documents. Although founded on the principles governing children’s rights, these minimum standards are not mere theoretical ideas. Together with the Operations Manual, they represent the joint efforts of a group of organizations, based in Southeast Asia and experienced in the theory and practice of children’s participation, to ensure that the presence of children at the 2005 Regional Consultation in Bangkok, under the UN Secretary-General’s Global Study on Violence Against Children, was meaningful, appropriate, adequately resourced and safe. After evaluating the experiences gained in that process as well as the minimum standards and members emphasize that the standards they propose are only the minimum by which children’s rights can be assured when they take part in major meetings and events.
Readers and users of this guide are invited to improve on both minimum standards and operations manual, ideally including children’s opinions when making such adaptations, as was the case with some processes within the development of the original minimum standards. Children’s participation is still in its infancy and much remains to be learned, not least how to ensure that children are involved in decision making at national, community and family levels. Yet this publication is a welcome and significant contribution to both the theory and practice of children’s participation.
Jaap E. Doek
Former Chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child
Published in Bangkok in 2007 by the Inter-Agency Working Group on Children’s Participation (IAWGCP): ECPAT International, Knowing Children, Plan International, Save the Children Alliance, UNICEF EAPRO and World Vision
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