| The trick is to listen
Each generation is faced with new challenges — listening for and to the views of children is one of ours. This year, The State of the World’s Children focuses on the responsibility of adults to seek out the perspectives and opinions of children and to take them seriously; and on the responsibility of adults to help children and adolescents develop their competencies for authentic and meaningful participation in the world.
In order to do this, adults must develop new competencies of their own. We must learn how to effectively elicit the views of children and young people and to recognize their multiple voices, the various ways children and young people express themselves, and how to interpret their messages — both verbal and non-verbal.
What’s more, we must ensure that there is opportunity, time and a safe place for the opinions of children and young people to be heard and given due weight. And we must develop our own capabilities to respond appropriately to the messages and opinions of children and young people.
The United Nation’s Children’s Fund’s goals with this report are to:
Draw public attention to the importance, reason, value and feasibility of young people’s active participation in family, school, community and national life; encourage states, civil society organizations and the private sector to promote children’s authentic involvement in decisions that affect their lives; present examples of how the lives of children, families and communities have been changed when children have opportunities to contribute on matters that affect them; and spark action that includes children and young people to meet the goals of “A World Fit for Children” and the Millennium Development Goals.
As the work on the MDGs moves ahead, improving the lives of children and young people will necessarily be at the heart of every effort; the participation of children and young people will be at the centre of every success.
Participation is a subject with a broad definition and multiple interpretations. In truth, children have always participated in life: in the home, in school, in work, in communities, in wars. Sometimes voluntarily and heroically, sometimes forcibly and exploitatively. Every culture has a child hero in its historical pantheon and fairy tales that tell of children who have made a difference in their worlds. What has happened is that childhood as a social construct has evolved with changing societies and changing values, and children as a group are gradually coming into their own as people with rights and social actors.
But because marginalization is still a fact of life for the vast majority of the world’s children, structured efforts to ensure their participation and protect them from exploitation have become essential. Participation is frequently defined as “the process of sharing decisions which affect one’s life and the life of the community in which one lives. It is the means by which democracy is built and is a standard against which democracies should be measured.”
Acknowledged as a multifaceted phenomenon, participation may include a wide range of activities that differ in form and style when children are at different ages: seeking information, expressing the desire to learn even at a very young age, forming views, expressing ideas; taking part in activities and processes; being informed and consulted in decision-making; initiating ideas, processes, proposals and projects; analysing situations and making choices; respecting others and being treated with dignity. The goal for children and young people is not simply to increase their participation but to optimize their opportunities for meaningful participation.