Child and Youth Participation
Child participation is the informed and voluntary involvement of children, including those from marginalized groups, children of different ages and different abilities, in every issue that affects them, either directly or indirectly.
The right of the child to be heard, embodied in art. 12 of the UN Convention on the right of the child provides that every child shall be afforded the right to be heard in matters affecting her or him including in any judicial or administrative proceedings, and for those views to be given due weight.
Child participation has different forms. Consultative participation is where adults seek children’s view to build knowledge and understanding of their lives, experience and concerns. Participation can be collaborative – where adults involve children in specific programs and activities. Participation can be also child-led – it takes place where children themselves are provided with the space and opportunity to initiate activities and advocate for themselves. All three forms of participation are important and offer different opportunities for children to influence decisions that bring about change.
Participation is a fundamental right, but it is also a means through which all other rights can be realized. Providing information to children, encouraging them to express their concerns, introducing safe and accessible complaint mechanisms in case of violence and abuse, are key strategies for providing effective protection. In addition to that, children acquire skills, knowledge and confidence, which enhances their development and contributes for reaching their full potential.
Bulgaria still does not have enough experience in child participation. Various legislative changes have been made and initiatives have been undertaken to encourage child involvement but still there is lack of understanding of what child participation is, there are no effective mechanisms for child participation, there is no funding and insufficient experience in collaboratively working with children and adolescents. Often, children and adolescents from marginalized groups have very limited opportunities to be heard, to participate meaningfully and to express their views in the family and their communities, in schools and other institutions.
UNICEF Bulgaria works in partnership with children and young people with the government, local authorities, schools and universities, civil society and private sector for ensuring the right to participation of all children and young people. Our activities aimed at:
- Raising public awareness and understanding of the importance of child participation and of taking children’s views and concerns on matters that affect their lives in the family, in school and in communities.
- Advocacy for legislative changes to guarantee that children and young people have the right to express their views in all areas and procedures and to introduce requirement their views to be given due weight, in accordance with their age and maturity.
- Supporting meaningful and sustainable participation of children and adolescents and creating spaces that offer them opportunities to engage as partners.
- Developing and introducing mechanisms at local and national level for consulting policies and programs with children and young people.
- Reducing disparities in the opportunities for participation and increase spaces for children and adolescents from different social background and marginalized groups to express their opinions and to participate in decisions that affect their lives.
- Strengthening capacities of institutions, schools and civil society organizations to work collaboratively with children and young people and to provide the space for them to contribute to the development of their school and communities.
- Advocacy for introducing modules on child rights and child participation in the training curricula for specialists working with and for children and adolescents.
Why are these efforts needed?
The right of every child to participate is an instrument for:
- Improving protection and better decision-making.
- Strengthening the rights and well-being of children.
- Enhancing personal development of children and young people and building strong civil society.