By Sukanya Sarkar:
“Can you hear me? My rights are being ignored”. Yes, exactly! This is what the children of our society are constantly saying to our Political Parties. The political parties, with a group of adult members, are trying their level best to formulate policies that are always being criticized no matter what. But what the political parties fail to understand is that to create a harmonious democracy, one needs the opinion of the present stakeholders i.e. the children of the society. It is these children who in future will become the leaders. The vast majority of “decision making” and “policy making”Â is done without taking the views of the children or the young people into consideration. Democracy, or an excellent governance, can be called so only when the opinion of citizens are taken, and it involves the children too.
There is powerful evidence showing how the political parties comprising of adults with their prevailing attitude of “knowing it all” and for the “best interest” of the children fail to recognize their rights. Many of these failures have resulted from the refusal to listen to the voices of the children. The people in power over the children can exploit and abuse that power to the detriment of children’s well-being. Children’s interests are frequently disregarded in public policy sphere in favor of more powerful interest groups. Though there has been recognition of entitlement to social and economic rights of the children with matters regarding education, healthcare, adequate standard of living but still these rights are flagrantly violated in most parts of the world.
United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), has recognized that participation is a right of all children and young people. It says , “All children have a right to express their views and to have them taken into account in all matters that affect them.” The right to children participaton in policy making processes is also supported by a number of UN General Assembly Resolutions. But still the children participation in these processes are marginal. The question is – why? Child participation continues to face institutionalized prejudice in many quarters that see children lacking in expertise, experience, capacity or drive. Despite the increase in the number of mechanisms to involve child participation, the policy makers continue to undermine their role on the basis of these perceptions.
What Is The Added Value Of Child Participation In Policy Making — And How?
Children possess knowledge and opinions about life and experiences that may vary from those ascribed by the policy makers. The policy makers often try to assume a kind of attitude that they know exactly what the children are feeling, thereby ignoring or neglecting their opinions on matters that affect them the most. An interesting example depicting the contrast of assumption of the policy makers and the reality of children’s lives was highlighted in a project undertaken with 4-5 year olds in a poor district of London. The children were asked to produce a painting showing the present environment that they lived in and the kind of changes they preferred in their environment. The researchers were astonished when they found that the children objected to the local council providing play areas with grass, but they wanted concrete areas because grass made it impossible for them to see broken glass, dog excrement and the discarded needles used by drug addicts.
In the context of parliamentary democracy, participation of children does not only mean direct involvement of children in policy making but also the reciprocal role of the policy makers to include the children’s voices, concerns and interests even when they are not present during policy making. In another incident in Brazil in 2009, three school children had presented a proposal to a plenary session of Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies against the use of flatbed trucks for school transport. Their action made the Congressmen aware of the dangers posed by the truck, and one in particular promised to sponsor the proposal which was ultimately approved by the Congress. Therefore, it proves that even if policy makers give their argument that age and lack of experience capacity of children enable them to ignore their opinions, these explicit examples do all the talking.
But now the question might arise that how would the policy makers reach out to the children for their opinion? In the 21st century, one must not forget the advancements in Information And Communication Technology (ICT). This being the most children friendly approach towards accessibility of opinion from the young people. Also NGO’s, appointing of child representatives and mainstream media can be an excellent forum for children to voice their opinion and help in policy making.
Consequences Of Not Involving Children In Policy Making
The alienation of children has some serious developmental consequences in policy making. With the children not being consulted in policy making, their needs are ignored and are not sufficiently addressed. The exclusion of children from policy making process, whether deliberate or unintentional, might lead to some serious rupture in the social fabric whereby the children might be lead to serious crimes and violence.
So the “wise” policy makers, instead of thinking of the children as homogeneous group lacking knowledge and experience can now rack up their brains and use the potential of the children – the future leaders of our society. Otherwise, with their opinion ignored and neglected, criminal activities will increase in leaps and bounds and the policy makers will have no time to re-consider the opinions of the children.