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UNICEF home The State of the World's Children
2002 Photo © UNICEF



VIII. It takes a leader to listen

When they do not listen to young people, adults' assumptions about children's needs are frequently off the mark.

© UNICEF/00-0513/Hernandez-Claire

Children help each other to complete referendum forms in a vote where almost 4 million children and adolescents in Mexico expressed their views on democratic values and practices and public problems.

Researchers in London asked a group of four- and five-year-olds to produce a mural about their environment. The researchers learned that these children did not want play areas covered with grass as most adults had assumed. They preferred concrete because grass hid broken glass, dog excrement and discarded needles from drug users.

By listening to teens for over two decades, the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) learned to rethink its assumptions and stereotypes. At first BRAC believed girls' greatest interest was marriage, but the organization soon discovered from adolescent girls that they wanted more education. Now, BRAC trains girls as teachers, reading centre coordinators and photographers.

UNICEF launched a series of regional youth opinion polls to help evaluate worldwide progress towards children's rights. Children from East Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean were asked their opinions on topics such as education, violence in their lives, HIV/AIDS and social justice. The 9- to-18-year-olds came from all strata of the population – rich and poor, girls and boys, rural and urban.

In East Asia and the Pacific, half of those polled mentioned education as a child's right and school as the main topic of discussion among their friends. In Europe and Central Asia, children voiced their belief that poor families and disabled children face pervasive discrimination. In Latin America and the Caribbean, participants felt uninformed about sex education, HIV/AIDS and drug abuse.

Soliciting children's opinions is not only a smart thing to do, it's the legal thing. With the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, countries pledged to include children's rights in policy decisions, opening the door for their important role as contributors to families, communities and nations.


For additional information on topics mentioned in the text, click on the links below:
The Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC)

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'In brief'

Leadership from 1990- 2000
The United Nations Special Session on Children
The Global Movement for Children: 'Say Yes for Children'
The magic of leadership
Acts of leadership
Leadership challenges
Good for children, good for the world
It takes a leader to listen
The costs of children's silence
Every nation has a role to play