Children’s authority in the world of adults
A common stereotype of children’s rights is that a child can do whatever he or she wants unless it meddles with the affairs of adults. Little citizens are supposed to follow such a line of behaviour from their first steps in life until the day when they reach maturity. One could say that this is rather out-of-date approach. In fact this situation still prevails in our everyday life. And the “no-go” remains unchanged despite all the resolutions adopted by children’s representatives at world forums, all the child-friendly legislation in force and all the statements made by little leaders claiming that children’s problems can be handled much better from inside than from the governmental offices. The principle that “we held consultations and in the end it was me who decided” dominates among adults.
But this is going to change. For example, the local Kyiv oblast administration and non-governmental organisations’ activists in the region undertook the uphill task of implementing the idea of children’s participation in decision-making at the local level. Project participants are convinced that children should influence essential decisions concerning their life and future. The opening events were seminars on interactive methods of work with children discussing in children’s participation in decision-making.
Representatives of local authorities and non-governmental organisations convened for a training organised by the State Office on Minors and the All-Ukrainian NGO Democracy Development Centre with support from UNICEF. Many participants came in order to get to know about other organisations’ achievements whereas some of them arrived to share their own experiences. But all the participants of the training shared a common commitment – to educate specialists on new and democratic methods of work with children.
“We do not want to get children formally involved in our activities at the initial stage and just invite them to our seminars and trainings in order to present it as an example of children’s participation in decision making”, explained Ella Lamakh, at that time the representative of the Democracy Development Centre. “What adults should know is that a child needs to be prepared in order to take part in the process of decision making. That is why at the moment we hold seminars both for adults and children in order to educate them on what children’s participation is and what the methods of work with children are. To that end we put special emphasis on democratic approaches because they prepare little citizens to discuss the issues of social importance”, added Ella.
“It was very interesting for me to get involved in the training together with the adults and to discuss the issue of children’s participation in decision making”, says Marina Bogdanova, a high school student from Kharkiv. “The adults tried to limit the topic of discussion all the time and we had to insist on discussing the problems without any restraints”.
The seminars were held not only in Kyiv but also in Kharkiv, Kherson, Crimea and Odessa, and became the first step towards children’s inclusive democracy. Later on the participants of the seminars had to coordinate work with children within their organisations. Then came round tables for adults and children organised across the country. A number of key questions including the rights of the child were raised during these events.
As a result joint proposals to the Government elaborated by the children and adults were drafted and approved. In order to get widespread public attention to the idea and the means of children’s participation, representative public hearings were held in Kyiv. In the concluding stage a package of documents containing recommendations prepared by the children were submitted to high level governmental authorities.
The issue that requires special attention from the State is the 2002 UN General Assembly Special Session on Children Outcome Document, A World Fit for Children. All States Parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child have undertaken the commitment to include the provisions of A World Fit for Children into their national legislation. And together with all but two countries in the world, Ukraine ratified the Convention. It therefore has to adapt all the normative acts including state programmes and workplans to the Convention and the Outcome Document.
In 2002 Ukraine submitted a report on the state of children in the country to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. Pursuant to the report concluding observations of the UN Committee provided the Government of Ukraine with a set of recommendations regarding what should be done in order to improve children’s living conditions. There would not be any point for the Government to reject the assistance of non-government organisations in the elaboration of legislative norms.
“Before the seminar I could not even imagine that it would be interesting for me to listen to discussions about reports prepared by the adults for the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. But when I got to know about the opportunities of getting involved in the process of working out the reports and about the commitments Ukraine had undertaken in child protection I found out that it was really fascinating to write and draw about the rights of the child”, says Nazar Panchoha from Sudova Vyshnia in Mostyska rayon. “I felt like I was an inseparable part of the world.”
In some cases the training helped to reveal the existing models of children’s participation capable of giving a spur to positive changes in other regions. A good example of a working model is the executive committee of high school students in Rzhyschiv town (Kyiv region). The student advisory body represents all the educational institutions in the town including two schools, the Industrial and Pedagogical College and Technical School.
“We got the most active youth involved in order to create the committee” explains Tetyana Potapenko, the Head of the Department on Minors of Rzhyschiv Town Administration. “It holds sessions when there is a need to consider some problem and to take a decision. For instance when young people come and tell us that they meet some problems on the campus we discuss the situation, outline its possible solutions and then try to see what can be done on the spot. Quite often committee members organise lectures (workshops, trainings, discussions) on pressing issues. It is very important that youth takes them much more seriously than if the workshops were provided by an adult.”
Local administration officials and young leaders who initiated the creation of the executive committee claim that young people of the town press for active participation, trying to gain authority not only among young people but as well at the town level. The idea of the committee attracted considerable attention from Kyiv oblast officials who now try to extend Rzhyschiv model throughout the oblast and create a young people’s advisory board who could represent young people in relations with local authorities. Of course at the higher level the coordination of activities is an arduous task, but the experience achieved is quite notable and has the possibility to be implemented in other regions or even throughout the country.
“Children and young people’s advisory bodies could embrace representatives from every district”, reflects the Head of Department on Minors of Kyiv oblast State Administration, Larysa Gurkovska “The dates and terms of sessions should be fixed in order that local administrations can ensure delegates arrival to oblast centres and provide them with necessary training on decision making procedures. We could lobby for some issues of concern to children. Nowadays children do not adhere to the stereotypes of the past that still dominate in our social life. They understand that whether these stereotypes will withstand the challenges of time or become completely out of date is entirely up to them. I am confident that the creation of child advisory boards is a viable idea especially with support from the organisation that holds this seminar. What we witness at the moment are the first signs of improvement.”
There is good news from Western Ukraine as well. In August this year, the Lviv oblast State Administration initiated consultations with civil society representatives within the framework of the UNICEF supported project implemented in the oblast by the Democracy Development Centre called ‘Society for the protection of children’s rights’. “We have fostered close cooperation with non-governmental and charity organisations in recent years” said the Deputy Head of Lviv Oblast Administration Bohdan Matolych. “A good example of this cooperation is children’s involvement in the decision making process”. Words turned into actions and child advisory boards were created at local administrations and local governing bodies in four districts of Lviv oblast – in Stryy, Zhovkva, Turka, and Mostyska. The main function of newly created bodies is to ensure child rights in the process of making decisions together with adults.
“We selected these districts in order to provide better geographical coverage of the project in our oblast”, says the Head of the Department of Family and Youth of the Lviv oblast State Administration, Yaroslav Kashuba. “In all four districts opening sessions have already been held, decisions on the creation of child advisory boards have already been approved and currently undergo examination in the legal departments of local administrations. The next step is adoption of agendas and the beginning of practical activities.”