Child and Youth Participation
Participants of the opening discussion for the drafting of national policy on the development of the youth and adolescent participation
Children’s participation rights are essential tools for achieving children’s rights to survival, development and protection. The Convention on the Rights of the Child defines children’s participation as the rights to expression, information, involvement in decisions, and association. By exercising and enjoying their participation rights, children are better able to develop. However, if this right is not respected, if no supportive environment is created to use adolescents’ capacities and talents meaningfully, the child or adolescent may become isolated and alienated, and his/her potential may be exploited, abused or misdirected and lead to a risk taking behavior.
Before the transition in Mongolia child participation was wide although it was largely adults initiated and driven. Since the transition ideas and understanding of children’s participation are being changed for the better, however the representation of children and adolescents in the local and national democratic system is still limited and is mostly attributed to as “events based”.
In 2005, the Government of Mongolia adopted a ninth National Millennium Development Goal of strengthening and fostering democratic governance and human rights, and promotion and institutionalization of children and adolescents’ participation at all levels of the society is a prerequisite to its fulfillment.
In 1999, within the framework of the United Nations Foundation (UNF) project named “Meeting the Participation and Development Rights of Adolescents Girls” UNICEF coordinated the conduct of a comprehensive adolescent’s needs assessment survey, inviting 2,500 adolescents to articulate their needs, challenges and dreams.
The survey showed that the majority or more than 80 percent of adolescents openly express their opinions to their friends and parents and only 20 percent speak up at meetings and feel free to criticize or express themselves through children’s organizations and NGOs. As for the involvement in the decision making, more than 50 percent of adolescents feel that they play a part in the decision making. 34.7 percent pointed out that decision concerning them are made with the help of adults, 14.4 percent shared the responsibility for making the decision with adults and 20.1 percent stated that even though they express their opinions it is the adult who makes the decision. Significantly, the level of participation in decision making rises with age, social status, levels of parents’ education and residence in a more central location.
Guided by the findings of the Survey the three UN agencies in collaboration with the Government of Mongolia, designed a three year project ‘Improving the Outlook of Mongolian Adolescent Girls and Boys’ funded by the UNF. Unique features included inter-agency and inter-sectoral cooperation, integrated initiatives, and creating opportunities for genuine adolescent participation at every stage in the project cycle.
‘My Passport’ campaign, the most significant activity in terms of promoting children’s participation, is one of the initiatives implemented within the framework of the project. It is a voluntary activity in which adolescents themselves take the initiative to form an organic and informal group of friends or interest groups to undertake group initiatives taken in six primary areas of participation, health, development, reproductive health, service, and information and communication. The campaign resulted in increased self-confidence, interaction and participation of children in the community based activities and was implemented and replicated nationwide by the decree of the Prime Minister of Mongolia.
UNICEF is committed to children and adolescents’ participation as partners in development. By promoting development with and for children, UNICEF works to enable the participation of children whose voices are rarely heard, the most marginalized and vulnerable such as poor and disabled children. This entails strengthening children and adolescents’ capacity for participation while promoting an environment that helps them to do so safely and responsibly. It requires raising awareness of the benefits of participation as a key developmental process.
The programme for promoting children’s participation in the new country programme has two complementary components.
COMPONENT ONE. Promoting child and adolescent participation through UNICEF-supported programmes in two key areas:
One. Sector-specific interventions for children’s participation rights:
Child Health & Nutrition programme:
• Encourage children’s participation in promotion of safe hygiene practice in the Water Sanitation project
Basic Education programme:
• Promote/strengthen children’s participation in the students’ council in the Child-Friendly School project
• Support student clubs: health, environment…
Child Protection programme:
• Formation of children’s participation forums in the ‘diversion’ models in the Juvenile Justice Reform project
• Promote children’s participation as trainers for peer groups
• Promote children’s participation to counselors in the Volunteer Counseling and Testing project
• Strengthen children’s participation in the Family Empowerment Strategy
• Encourage children’s participation in the Regional Development Councils
TWO. Children’s participation in programme processes: country assessments, situation analysis, research, Mid-Term Review, project reviews, evaluations and children as monitors of their own programme.
COMPONENT TWO. Institutionalization of children and adolescent’s participation at national, sub national and grassroots levels
In 2004 the Government of Mongolia endorsed a new strategy of the National Authority for Children (NAC) aimed at laying down and institutionalizing the foundation for promoting child and adolescent participation in the decision making process.
Within the framework of institutionalizing children and adolescent’s participation UNICEF supports endorsement of the National Policy on Children and Adolescent’s Participation.
The goals of the National Policy on Children and Adolescent’s Participation are to create a social, cultural and political environment which supports and facilitates child and youth participation, by strengthening structures which enable their participation and by increasing their capacity to participate meaningfully in different arenas and different sectors of society.
Objectives of the policy include the mainstreaming of child and youth participation in the areas of education, health and nutrition, HIV/AIDS, child protection, communication, emergencies, planning and monitoring and evaluation.