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Much has been learned over the years: that work with families, parents, communities and local authorities can create the conditions and context for development; that it is those people affected by policies who should be involved in their design, implementation and evaluation; and that there are human costs to discrimination and exclusion...

Until recently, these lessons have not been applied to working with children and young people. Adults and organizations have often failed to see children and young people as resources, subjects with rights and people with dignity who have the right to be heard and taken into account in decisions that affect them.

At the same time, another quiet and respectful revolution has been under way. Children and young people have shown their willingness, energy, insights and contributions in making the world fitter. Across diverse countries, cultural and religious traditions, political contexts, castes and classes, children who were given the space and opportunity to participate in appropriate ways, more often than not, acted responsibly and effectively.

Democracy begins with children faced with the spectre and reality of terrorism, with extreme and degrading levels of poverty throughout the world and a widespread sense of disenfranchisement, world leaders have acknowledged the need to “deepen democracy” — to foster democracy that is more inclusive and responsive...

Today, a far greater number of the world’s countries are at least nominally democratic than was the case 20 years ago, and a majority of the world’s people now have a vote that will contribute to the formation or influence of their national government. And currently 140 of the world’s countries hold multi-party elections, more than at any time in history.

But, the health of these democracies is a concern across both industrialized and developing countries.

First, young people’s disenchantment with the democratic process causes perhaps the greatest concern of all...

Even industrialized countries relatively secure in their perception of themselves as mature democracies are afflicted by the increasing disenchantment of voters with politicians and the political system as a whole...The disenchantment of people in developing countries with domestic politics and with the international political process causes even greater concern...

Developing democracy is not simply a matter of holding multi-party elections. Promoting democratic citizenship and understanding, “…requires a deeper process of political development to embed democratic values and culture in all parts of society — a process never formally completed.” It is a process that begins in early childhood and means “…expanding capabilities such as educa- tion,to enable people to play a more effective role in (democratic) politics, and fostering the development of civil-society groups and other informal institutions. Thus, the place to start to build democracy is with children — from what they learn in the process of their growth and development...

Children, like adults, gain their self-esteem through positive and active engagement with the world. A sense of respect and responsibility for self and others is a value that is lived from the early moments of life and experienced constantly in interaction with the world. The hope for democracy lies in the children who have been prepared to succeed in school throughout their early childhood and whose opinions and perspectives are valued in their families, school community and in society, who have learned about the diversity of human experience and the value of discussion, and who have had multiple opportunities to acquire and develop their competencies. Such children enhance civil society both in the present, as children, and in the future, as adults. Democracy is something children learn as they develop from infancy through adolescence.

When children, who are far more capable than is generally recognized, are provided the opportunities throughout their childhoods to develop the skills and competencies of participation, they also learn what they need to be effective members of a democratic society.

A child whose active engagement with the world has been encouraged from the outset will be a child and citizen of the world who is more likely to value his or her own opinions and beliefs, and the opinions and beliefs of others...

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