Children can make a difference in their communities
By Mrs Sheila George
Guyana Chronicle
March 17, 2003

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AT THE close of the Special Session on children in May of last year, the United Nations General Assembly pledged to build a world “fit for children” and world leaders declared their commitment to change the world not only for children but with their participation.

This pledge echoes Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that “Government shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views, the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child”.

The idea of “children participation” in matters affecting them seems to strike fear in the minds of most adults - the fear of an erosion of adult or parental authority. This apprehension is unwarranted and does injustice to the intent of the article.

Children’s participation is the process involves seeking information, asking questions, self-discovery, expressing freely, ideas and opinions on matters affecting them, acquiring the ability to think creatively and engaging in shared activities appropriate to the child’s development and maturity.

Children can make a difference in their communities and in national institutions if provided with the opportunities for active participation. They must have safe places where loving and caring relationships exist, where adults treat them and one another with respect, where problems are handled with fairness and civility.

To deny children opportunities for involvement in decisions concerning their welfare or participation in issues pertinent to their well being is to run the risk of creating a future society of young adults who lack trust, negotiating skills, respect for societal norms and have zero tolerance for dissent of any kind.

Today, world leaders are calling for a democracy that is inclusive, consultative and participatory, and so far the call is adult-centered. The inclusiveness sidesteps the children. But genuine democracy begins in the family with its network of special relationships and responsible participation. It is within this enclave that the principles of democracy are either nurtured or destroyed.

Today’s parent therefore is challenged to create favourable conditions where the child can participate freely in open discussions with parents and peers, where he feels valued as a person and listened to and above all where his views are taken seriously. By consciously providing these conditions the parent can then truly be guide and counsellor as well as the agent providing the tools with which children can confidently feel they are contributing to building the kind of world they want to live in.

Part of a statement presented by the children to the world leaders at the UN Special Session on children reads as follows:

“We are children of the World and despite our different backgrounds we share a common reality. We are united by our struggle to make the world a better place for all. You call us the future, but we are also the present.”

It follows therefore that if we are serious about making this world a fit place for all people - we will only do so with the full participation of children and young people.

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