International Day for the Eradication of Poverty - Driving change through child and youth participation

 

By Andrew Hassett, Director, Global Campaigns; World Vision International

Children make up around 37 percent of the population in developing countries and up to 49 percent in the least developed countries. In fragile contexts such as the DRC, there are about 500 million children. Beyond the fact that participation is a human right, from a demographic perspective alone, it is critical that children participate in decisions that affect their lives and well-being, along with the future of their societies.

Children and youth are agents in their development and that of their families, communities, cities and countries. They actively form independent cultures and social relationships and with the right levels of support and the freeing of space for them to participate, children and youth are making a powerful contribution to social change. That is why World Vision is working to empower children and creating intentional relationships between them and adults and communities, based on mutual respect and partnership at the family, local, national and international levels.

Participation contributes to the personal development of children and youth, by endowing them with the confidence and leadership skills and cementing key capabilities to lead in diverse and complex contexts and environments.

Participation contributes to the personal development of children and youth, by endowing them with the confidence and leadership skills and cementing key capabilities to lead in diverse and complex contexts and environments.

During a recent visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo I had the opportunity to meet a local Child Parliament group from the town of Kissantu, a couple of hours outside of Kinshasa. The group’s leader, Christian was able to clearly articulate the most important issues children from their community are facing, along with the solutions  – for every child to be registered at birth, for parents to know when their children are sick and to have the ability to access primary health care when needed (DRC suffer from the fifth worst under-five mortality rate in the world, with 391,000 children dying annually) and for greater government assistance in covering health costs. Currently, households cover an astonishing 46% of the national health budget through user fees, whilst government health funding is at 2%

World Vision is currently working with 39 child parliaments across the country, and is specifically engaging children, families and the government to establish a formal child parliament structure in every school in the DRC, including in the most vulnerable areas of the country.

Participation of children and youth clearly benefits decision-making processes. It is no secret that participatory processes lead to better decisions and outcomes, and that government services are more efficient and accountable and less wasteful when they are informed by the concerns and opinions of their constituency.

Adults do not necessary have a comprehensive view of the issues that children and youth face. On the contrary, children and youth, as individuals and as distinct age groups, possess a unique knowledge and perspective about their aspirations and concerns. By informing the decisions and policies that affect their lives, children and youth can contribute to making them more effective, relevant and sustainable.

Recent community consultation in India to inform our response to achieve better educational outcomes provides an example. When asked what would make the biggest impact on education, fathers answered more school buildings, mothers said better teachers whilst children strongly stated that a reduction in alcoholism within the community would enable them to study at night in a safe and conducive environment.

When children and youth are fully aware of their rights and active in their realization, they can play a more active role in holding duty-bearers –i.e. civil society, governments, multilateral institutions, community etc. – accountable for their obligations towards them and others. There is no doubt that this is a critical enabler of long term change and an area that requires more analysis and investment.