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.

No comments: