Monday, 24 December 2007

Ensuring meaningful child and youth participation

Ensuring meaningful child and youth participation in the fight against commercial sexual exploitation of children: the ECPAT experience

Children's participation is especially important in fighting their exploitation. Children have the right to be involved in decisions that affect them such as the kind of assistance to be provided. They have the right to have decisions (and the considerations that led to those decisions) reviewed. They can play important roles in improving services (in rehabilitation centres for example), they can reach out to their peers to inform them about their rights and make them aware of certain risks, and they can assist in designing prevention, rehabilitation and advocacy programmes.

Unlike many other organisations that deal with exploitation of children ECPAT International has embraced children and youth participation as an important principle and policy in their work.

ECPAT International has published a number of materials related to their practice and policy of involving children and youth, such as:

Good practices for working with experiential and at-risk youth

Information about the ECPAT International Child and Youth Advisory Committee

Information about the Youth Partnership Project in South Asia

ECPAT's latest publication is a report of a survey of its practice worldwide to involve children and youth.

It provides useful insights in practice and methods of involving children and youth and the challenges encountered. The publication also includes the full text of ECPAT’s child and youth participation policy and their child protection policy.

The report notes that:

“Strengthening ECPAT’s child and youth participation has been a process of exploration and innovation which is still at its early stages of refinement and development. As children and youth have been mobilised for social action, the resource needs (both in human resources and financially) have become more apparent. However, if we recognise children’s participation as a fundamental part of the strategy to achieve children’s protection from sexual exploitation, then we are also recognising our own responsibility to uphold children’s fundamental rights.”

Sunday, 23 December 2007

An Autobiography of Child Work: a reflexive account

Children’s perspectives are crucial in understanding the life-worlds of working children

An Autobiography of Child Work: a reflexive account. By Birendra Raj Giri in Childhoods Today, Volume 1 issue 2, December 18, 2007, Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth at the University of Sheffield, United Kingdom.

This is an impressive account of the childhood of the author, Birendra Raj Giri, from Nepal, highlighting the ‘double trouble’ of combining schooling with work in rural areas. The article shows the importance of the different roles children play in their own family and society and how these are often not acknowledged by adults.

He managed to combine school with a heavy workload at home. Birendra’s description of his experiences brilliantly shows the awkward position of many children whose views are ignored by adults who claim to act in the best interest of children.

“While I loved attending school, teachers would be my worst nightmare because my household work often would not allow me to complete the homework and I had to pay the penalty for that. The common form of punishment at the school was beating from palm to shoulder with a long skinny stick and asking students to straighten their arms or slapping on their backs. The stick would have such an impact that not only the pain but also the ‘blue stripes’ on their hands or backs would last for days and a couple of times, I received cuts on my palm and arm because the teacher was using a rough stick.


There were numerous other forms of beating, including slapping students’ cheeks, pulling ears/hair, hitting on the head with books, putting a pen between two fingers and squeezing them, etc.


However, I felt the beatings were completely unfair because the teachers were not prepared to listen to my side of the story: although I would arrive at school bare-footed, wearing torn clothes and completely exhausted by working and walking, the teachers would blame me for being indolent; if I told them the truth, they would then accuse me of lying, in spite of the fact most of the teachers were aware of my family circumstances.

Telling my parents was not useful because they would say, “look son, teachers are good people, they want you to be good too; that’s why sometimes they punish you to teach you good discipline.” In Nepal, teachers are considered as ‘gurus’ who cause no harm to their pupils, but this is not always true, especially if you have to go through constant beating like an animal. Moreover, my father had warned me that if I ever failed, he would stop sending me to school. Thus, until I was about 15 years old (I left the village after I completed 10th grade or secondary education), I had no other choice than to believe that everyone was acting in my best interests – they had good intentions, wishing to make me a good person, so I had to continue to carry out household and farm work alongside my studies (Blanchet, 1996; Nieuwenhuys, 1994) - which meant that I was trapped between heavy work at home and severe beating at school.

In the light of such experiences, if those children who only engage in harsh work are called ‘child labourers’, and those who do acceptable jobs are called ‘child workers’, while those who neither work nor go to school are called ‘nowhere’ children, then children like myself should indeed be called ‘double troubled’ children, because they are caught up between heavy work and study, not to mention the severe punishments at school. My childhood experiences therefore make me believe that rural children of Nepal are deprived of education in multiple ways. Firstly, most village parents are extremely poor like my own, and cannot afford to send their children to school. Secondly, there are often no schools nearby and small children cannot walk for hours to reach the school. Thirdly, many children are double-troubled with work and schooling, which often become incompatible. Finally, the inferior quality of education quality and unfriendly student environment (viz. physical punishments) seriously discourage children from attending school.” (pages 9-11)

Based on his own experiences Birendra stresses the need to take children’s views into account in research and discourse on child work:

“[This does, however,] require that we understand children’s living and working conditions and how they make sense of the environment that they (are forced to) work in and only carefully devised research is likely to produce useful results regarding the different sectors in which children are found working.” (p.18)

Childhoods Today is a new e-journal published, bi-annually in the first instance, by the Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth at the University of Sheffield, United Kingdom, and supported by the Worldwide Universities Network.

The aim of the journal is to publish high quality empirical and theoretical work by up-and-coming researchers in the field of childhood studies and to provide a reference for others working in this and related fields.

Childhoods Today is an externally reviewed journal that is unique in providing an international forum designed exclusively for the publication of articles by postgraduate students (i.e. those studying for their MA, M.Phil. or PhD, as opposed to post-doctoral students) working in the field, which can be accessed by other interested postgraduates and academics.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Minimum Standards for Consulting with Children

Minimum Standards for Consulting with Children

The Interagency Working Group on Children's Participation in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, consisting of ECPAT International, Knowing Children, Plan International, Save the Children Sweden and UK, UNICEF EAPRO and World Vision Asia Pacific has just published minimum standards for consulting with children, along with a detailed Operations Manual describing exactly how they can be implemented.

The minimum standards have been developed through six years of practice by the multi-agency group, starting with evaluation of children’s involvement in international consultations, the initial drafting and piloting of the standards at the East Asia and Pacific Regional Consultation concerning the United Nations Study on Violence Against Children, in 2005, and a number of other formal consultations with children in different parts of the world.

What are minimum standards?

Minimum standards are statements of the lowest acceptable level of practice by both adults and children to ensure meaningful children’s participation in a formal consultation or conference. Minimum standards ‘draw a line’, stating what is and is not acceptable for children’s participation.

In general, minimum standards need to be:

Adhered to: They should have monitoring mechanisms and sanctions if they are not all met;
Non-negotiable: They draw a line to show what is acceptable or not acceptable;
Transparent: Clear criteria for each standard give details of the steps an agency needs to take;
Permanent: They are fixed and followed consistently and constantly;
Agreed upon: One organization or group is accountable for them (the organizing committee) and key implementing agencies for the standards (local partners) understand and agree on them.

The Minimum Standards are based on five principles:

  1. Transparency, honesty and accountability
  2. A children-friendly environment
  3. Equality of opportunity
  4. Safety and protection of children
  5. Commitment and competency of adults

Download the Minimum Standards here.

Download the Operations Manual here.

The Interagency group has its own website where more of its publications on children's participation can be downloaded:

Print copies of the minimum standards can be obtained from:
Plan International
Asia Regional Office
18th floor, Ocean Tower 2 Building
75/24 Sukhumvit 19 Road
Klongtoey Nua, Wattana
Bangkok 10110 Thailand
Tel: +66 (0)2 204 2630-4
Fax: +66 (0)2 204 2629

From the introduction of the minimum standards:
Since the 1990 World Summit for Children in New York, children have increasingly been involved in international events and meetings in which their rights and welfare are discussed. The rationale for this is usually described as their ‘right to give an opinion’ on matters concerning their lives (Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989). However, their involvement in making decisions remains limited, and they may have no actual place at the decision-making table.

Children’s participation in international meetings and conferences is limited by adult control over:
■ The resources required for children to attend;
■ The topics of discussion;
■ The agenda and procedures of the meeting;
■ The selection process;
■ The topics on which children are asked to give their opinions.

In Seen and Heard, a 2004 research assessment on the participation of children from the East Asia and Pacific region in the Special Session and related international forums, the researchers noted that:

  • selection processes were not always transparent or representative;
  • some adults had negative or paternalistic attitudes towards children;
  • children were not adequately protected from potential threats to their health and well-being or from abuse and exploitation;
  • children were inadequately prepared for their roles in the forums;
  • the events lacked follow up.
In addition, the researchers noted growing international concern about the approaches used for involving children in international adult settings in which children have little or no influence on the actual decision-making process. This was mostly due to a lack of forward planning, particularly unrealistic budgeting, and failure at the regional level to collaborate fully with national organizations working with children in participatory processes.

The full text of the research assessment can be downloaded here.

NOTE: Inviting children to participate in formal conferences is only one option for consulting with children. There are many valid alternatives. Experience shows that participatory activities with children at the local level, close to where children live, encounter fewer constraints (and may often be the preferred option) compared to formal events. Formal conferences or consultations are more effective when based on a process of local activities with children.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Children hold local governments acccountable

Children hold local governments accountable

Following is a report by Concerned for Working Children (CWC) about children’s involvement in local government in India.

The report uses terminology which is commonly used in India but may be difficult to understand for those who are not familiar with it. I therefore attached an explanation about the terminology at the end of the report.

The first set of Children's Grama Sabhas - 2007 underway in Karnataka

The reports from the first set of Children's Grama Sabhas 2007 stand testimony to how a well facilitated process of Children's Grama Sabhas not only holds the local government accountable to children and ensures their commitment to children's rights, but also has a powerful impact on strengthening local governance.

The first Children's Grama Sabha report is from Halli Hole, a remote Panchayat of Udupi District, one of the field programme areas of the Concerned for Working Children. Hundreds of children took part in this Sabha last week in which the Panchayat reported back to children about the successful implementation of 19 Programmes that are a direct result of the issues raised by children during Children's Grama Sabha - 2006. These include constructions of toilets in schools and improved access to basic facilities and services, not only for children, but for the entire community. The President of the Panchayat, Shankar Narayan Chatra, said 'It is now absolutely clear to me why children's participation is essential to strengthen local governments. Children do not only list their problems, they also describe the implications of the problems and the importance of addressing them. This has been extremely useful to us to develop our action plans.'

750 children took part in the Children's Grama Sabha at Hardalli Mandalli, also in Udipi District. After carrying out a huge procession in which children voiced their issues, they made detailed presentations about a range of demands, including the need for a community hall for the local high school, water facilities and toilets for many homes that lack them. Hari Prasad Shetty, the President made a special reference to the high quality of children's presentation. He pointed out that "Children have collected the background data and have presented their issues in a very concise matter. We are committed to develop actions plans for their problems in consultation with them." (Please see photographs attached)

Children and adolescents are critical observers of their own condition and should be participants in decisions concerning themselves and their lives. A practical experience of participatory democracy is essential for the moulding of the 'new citizen'. They need to understand and prepare for governance and citizenship and therefore must be enabled to interact in a constructive and meaningful way with local governments at all levels. For children's participation to be truly productive and not just tokenistic the State should create structures for children to; first of all; access their local governments that are closest and most accessible to them.

It may be recalled that Panchayat Raj Ministry, Government of Karnataka issued an Order (638 - 2007 dated 30.10.2007) which makes it mandatory for all Panchayats to provide an opportunity for children to articulate their issues directly with their elected representatives, and emphasises the need for the Panchayats to report back on the action taken regarding the issues flagged by children is a very important step in this direction. It is equally important that the State now conducts systematic capacity building programmes in order to equip the Panchayats, officials and all civil society groups that will be engaged with this process to ensure that Children's Grama Sabhas realise their full potential.

Terminology explained:

India has a federal system of governance – with a Central Government and each state having its own State Government. Within each State, a three tier local government system exists in the rural areas.

The lowest level of local governance (and according to the Indian constitution, the most important) is the Panchayat. This consists of several villages - and is the lowest democratically elected government and the one closest to the people and children. All the plans and the identification of beneficiaries for government schemes and the like are and should be carried out at this level.

Higher than that is the Taluk Panchayat - at the block level. This is more the monitoring body - and also the fund-disbursal body. In Kundapur Taluk, for example, there are 56 Panchayats.

Above this is the District/Zilla Panchayat. This also has a monitoring role as well as a role to inform the policies of the State Government. In Udupi District, for example, there are 3 Taluks (Kundapur, Karkala and Udupi) and 147 Panchayats.

The Children's Grama Sabhas are being held at the level of the Panchayats.It is a meeting of all the children of the Panchayat to discuss issues of their concern and negotiate with concerened officials and elected bodies.

The three tiers mentioned above are democratically elected. The elections at the Panchayat level are supposed to be de-linked from political parties - however, in reality, most often there are party affiliations. Good news is that there are quite a large number of independent candidates in the Panchayat Elections - and the members of Namma Sabha are also considering contesting these elections as representatives of their organisation.

Namma Sabha is an association of youth, composed of artisans, crafts persons and others engaged in various occupations.

See also this webpage for further explanations about terminology.

For more information contact:

Kavita Ratna
Director - Communications
The Concerned for Working Children
303/2, L.B. Shastri Nagar
Vimanapura Post
Annasandra Palya
Bangalore - 560 017
Phones: 0091 80 25234270, 2523461

The issue was also covered in the Hindu, one of India's national papers on November 23, 2007, highlighting different views on the issue of children's involvement in panchayat raj institutions:

Fiat on children's participation in gram sabhas raises eyebrows

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Home alone: Perspectives of home-working children

Home Alone - León, Nicaragua
Home-working children, "are rarely taken into consideration in discussions about children's rights and child work since they do not have salaried work, and they are not 'in the streets'. These children run a major risk of having their rights violated as they often live in poverty and are left at home without any adult supervision on a regular basis. Still, poor families are dependent on these children while parents and older siblings are working outside the home."

Home Alone is a participatory action research project addressing children who work as caretakers for younger siblings in León, Nicaragua. The purpose of the project is to help León's home-working children improve their situation by involving them in the identification of their problems and empowering them to propose interventions and solutions based on their own experience. Home Alone also aims to ensure that the general public and the media are made aware of these children's problems and perspectives, as well as to advocate for the recognition of this group's rights by people in positions to make structural changes to improve the situation.

The project's central approach is encouraging and enabling children to share their knowledge and ideas, both about their own situation and about how to support other children in taking part in the issues that affect them. This approach is based on the premise that children have the potential and capacity to contribute to their own development. To that end, Home Alone draws on a series of methodologies and tools that facilitate the participation of children in all phases of the research process: from the gathering of the data to the analysis and the dissemination of the results. In this sense, the research is described as "participatory action".

Specifically, organisers work to engage children to participate through fun, attractive, and meaningful activities. Photography, video, child-led interviews, and advocacy are central elements. Some of the particular techniques include:

Children are familiarised with the use of single-use cameras so that they can document whichever elements of their everyday lives, as well as the lives of their brothers and sisters, that they choose. The objective is to collect authentic information about home-working children's reality and interests with a minimum of guidance or direction from researchers. Participants later act as storytellers in a video documentary by explaining in their own words the meaning of the images they have created. Using the children's own photographs as visual stimuli during the interviews is a technique for engaging children in the process of interpreting, analysing, and categorising the collected data (the photographs). The aim here is to use face-to-face communication, expressed through the video medium, to enable children to communicate their concerns in their own environment, to be shared with influential policy makers in these alternative types of "meetings"

As of October 2004, approximately 300 photographs taken by the children involved in the project had been printed. Organisers state that "the experiences in the Home Alone project clearly show that children are very capable taking photographs and that they really like the visual story-telling method as photography offers." They stress that the children and their families have given informed consent for the use of the photographs by the researchers and the communicators, and are consulted each time a photograph is considered for use in different media as part of the project.

The Barcelona-based CrozzCom - Communication for the Development in Action is an NGO working to facilitate collaboration with other NGOs, academics, media professionals, and development practitioners, especially those working to protect children's rights. Organisers say "We believe that visual methods and tools, such as video and photography have much to offer for researchers and development practitioners that work for the wellbeing of children".

Click here for a related report, "Child Interviews: Experiences from the Home Alone Project."

Click here for a related summary, Home Alone - Photography Gives Strength and Comfort to Nicaraguan Children Left Behind.

For more information, contact:
Lena Wall
Project and Communication Manager
Home Alone Project
Calle Mayor 16, piso 1º
08960 Sant Just Desvern
Tel.: +34933716811
Mobile: +34607222930

Communication Initiative site