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Speak

to the

World

Children’s views on having their say in European and international decision-making


The Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) protects the human rights of children by lobbying government and others who hold power, by bringing or supporting test cases and by using national and international human rights mechanisms. We provide free legal information and advice, raise awareness of children’s human rights, and undertake research about children’s access to their rights. We mobilise others, including children and young people, to take action to promote and protect children’s human rights. Each year we publish a review of the state of children’s rights in England. The Speak to the World project was grant funded by the European Union through the European Commission’s Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Programme. Speak to the World was coordinated by CRAE in partnership with the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights (Austria), the Estonian Union for Child Welfare (Estonia), the Children’s Rights Alliance (Ireland) and Salvati Copiii Romania: Save the Children Romania. The project was also assisted by associate partners, the Children’s Rights Information Centre (Moldova) and YUNPRESS (Russia). The views expressed in this publication are those of the Children’s Rights Alliance for England. The Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained in this publication. Geoff Monaghan from CRAE wrote this report. ISBN 978-1-898961-30-7

Children’s Rights Alliance for England 94 White Lion Street London, United Kingdom N1 9PF T: 00 44 (0)20 7278 8222 E: info@crae.org.uk W: www.crae.org.uk

2011 2


About the project Between November 2010 and February 2011, around 500 children and young people took part in consultation events around Europe. They shared their views and experiences of being heard and taken seriously by European and international decision-makers. The Speak to the World project aimed to see what children and young people have to say about being involved in decision-making in Europe and internationally. It tried to get answers to the following questions:

Children have something to say and can change the world for the better. (Girl, 11 years, Romania)

•

Do children and young people know about the main institutions that make important decisions affecting them in Europe and across the world?

•

How do children and young people find out about opportunities to have a say when decisions are being made about things that affect their world?

•

Do children and young people know they have the right to participate in all matters affecting them? Do children and young people want to play a part in decisions made in Europe and across the world? If so, why is that?

All quotations from children and young people in this report are taken from the national consultation events unless mentioned in a footnote. Some show age, gender and country, but some were taken without all of these things being recorded at the time.

3


•

Do children and young people have any experience of participating in European and international decision-making? Are there barriers to children and young people being able to participate?

• How would children and young people change the way decisions are made in Europe and internationally if they were in charge?

As well as giving the answers we found to these questions, this report suggests changes that should be made. Speak to the World was led by the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (known as CRAE) but was done with partners from other countries across Europe. The money for the project came mostly in a grant from the European Commission.

Participation is being able to put into practice your right to be heard and taken seriously, as set out in Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which all countries in Europe have agreed to follow. It means being involved and having an influence in decisions that affect you.

This report will be given to important decision-making organisations and parliaments as well as smaller groups and organisations, including those run by children and young people. It will be put on websites along with a film made with some of the children and young people involved in the project.

The project partners Austria England Estonia Ireland Romania With help from Moldova Russia (See rear cover for detail)

4


Austr

The most important parts of the project were large consultation events in each of the five partner countries. Around 100 children and young people participated in each event. They said what they thought about participation in decision-making in Europe and internationally. They worked together in fun and interesting ways. The results from these important events were written up into five separate country reports. You can read these on CRAE’s website at http://www.crae.org.uk/protecting/rightheard/speak-to-the-world.html. As well as the five consultation events, there was a survey of non-governmental organisations (NGO). This survey asked how these organisations support children and young people to participate in European and international decision-making processes. The main things the NGOs reported to us are incorporated into this report.

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To help set the scene for the project, the Austrian There is a feeling that project partner carried out a the organisations are literature review. This was a study there but young people examining the main messages don’t know about them. from books and research reports already written about children (Young person, Ireland) and young people’s views and experiences of participation in European and international decision-making processes. The literature review also looked at the law about listening to children and young people and what is happening in Europe and the rest of the world to make sure that children’s rights to be heard and taken seriously are upheld. To help get ready for the country events, CRAE, consulting its partners, wrote a children’s guide, How children and young people can have a say in European and international decision-making. This guide explains European and international decision-making institutions and also laws and international agreements relating to children. You can read the guide on CRAE’s An NGO is a non-governmental website http://www.crae.org.uk/ organisation – a charity or protecting/right-heard/speakother group that is not part of the to-the-world.html. Government.

5


Why was the project needed? Speak to the World

European law requires that children’s rights be protected and respected. It is the same for countries that have signed up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – and that is almost all countries in the world. 94 White Lion Street, London,

www.crae.org.uk

UK, N1 9PF

4 Upper Mount Street, Dublin 2, Ireland www.childrensrights.ie

Freyung 6/2, A-1010 Vienna, Austria bim.lbg.ac.at/en

3 Intrarea Stefan Furtuna Str, District 1, Bucharest www.salvaticopiii.ro

YUNPRESS www.ynpress.com

With financial support from the EU’s Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Programme

nal decision-making

Children’s Rights Information Centre, E.Cosa Str.,Chisinau MD-2008, Republic of Moldova www.childrights.md

Endla Street 6 – 18, 10142 Tallinn, Estonia lastekaitseliit.ee

European and internatio

Ludwig Boltzmann Institute

Human Rights

Children’s views on engagi ng in European and interna tional decision-making

Children’s views on engaging in

One of the most important children’s rights is the right to express views freely and for these to be taken seriously. Governments have a duty to make this right real for children and young people in all situations and settings.

to Speak the World

cover.indd 1

What children said to the United Nations about a world fit for children: We see the active participation of children: • raised awareness and respect among people of all ages about every child’s right to full and meaningful participation, in the spirit of the Convention on the Rights of the Child • children actively involved in decision-making at all levels and in planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating all matters affecting the rights of the child. Quoted from Unicef (2002) A World Fit for Children. 6

31/10/2011 11:03

Article 24(1) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union says this about children’s participation in decision-making: Children may express their views freely. Such views shall be taken into consideration on matters which concern them in accordance with their age and maturity. In the Charter, which is law, ‘may’ means ‘may’, but ‘shall’ means ‘must’. There is no minimum age for children being able to express their views freely. However, age and maturity can affect how much influence children’s views have.


Some European and international decision-makers • United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child • United Nations Human Rights Council • European Union • European Parliament • Council of Europe • European Commission • The G8 • European Court of Human Rights Some important European and international treaties, laws and policies • United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child • United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities • EU Charter of Fundamental Rights • The Lisbon Treaty • The Council of Europe Building a Europe for and with Children • EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child

Decisions affecting us directly should be properly taken, taking into account our views and needs. (Boy, 16 years, Romania)

European government and institutions agree, on paper, that they must make sure children and young people can, and do, participate in their decision-making processes. But what is written in policy papers does not always end up happening well in practice. It is what children and young people experience that tells the story of how well the right to be heard and taken seriously is really working. That was the main purpose of the project.

To me it seemed very inspired this idea to organise this event, because it helped us learn to say our views to others. (Young person, Romania)

7


Children and young people’s views The views of children and young people were given and gathered at the five country events. Also, the literature review provided background on what others had found out in the past. For example, there have been recent surveys in Europe of children’s views about their rights and, also, the NGO survey came up with interesting results.

I think first of all information matters, finding out, so I can get involved, but it is important also to have support from others, teachers, parents.

For those wanting the full picture, (Boy, 14 years, Romania) there are five country reports and the main project report. This shorter report is a summary of the main, most important, findings.

These are the main messages about children and young people’s understanding and awareness of opportunities to participate in European and international decision-making:

• It is very hard for anyone, child or adult, to know all about European and

international institutions and government bodies. So it is not a surprise that only a small proportion of children and young people have heard of most.

• Some are quite well known, like

the European Parliament. Others, like the G8 are hardly known at all. It is the same for the laws and international agreements. The Convention on the Rights of the Child is best known although the influential UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is not so well known. Every country that has agreed to the Convention must report to the UN Committee on how children’s rights are respected – and, more and more, it hears directly from children and young people.

8

I attended the launch of the campaign against corporal violence in the European Parliament. Our role was to present the experience and findings of children regarding the elimination of violence. (Girl, 16 years, Romania)


• It should be easier to find

information and opportunities to participate.

• Most children and young people say that school is a source of information, but that it is not yet a good source. Schools should teach more about these things in citizenship type lessons. They should also provide information about opportunities outside the main curriculum.

I think teachers should inform us about these decision-making processes. But because this thing doesn’t happen, a lot of us don’t know how we can get involved. (Girl, 14 years, Romania)

• Very few children and young people get their information or find out

about participation opportunities from youth organisations or NGOs. There is something strange about this because most of children’s participation in European and international decision-making is organised by NGOs. The answer that came out to explain this, was that youth organisations and NGOs are good at helping to support and encourage children and young people to participate but only a very few.

• There is a strong opinion that youth organisations and NGOs should be invited into schools and colleges more as a routine. This should always include those schools and colleges in more deprived areas.

• There is also a strong opinion that some schools do not take children’s rights and participation seriously enough. It was thought that schools should show greater commitment to participation and offer more information, opportunities and encouragement.

• Children and young

people think that it is best to get information and opportunities face-to-face – from teachers, youth workers and experienced peers.

• Newspapers and television

are not good sources of information and only a few mention places like libraries. 9


• The Internet and social networking sites were talked about a great

deal by children and young people, especially Facebook. The Internet is viewed as a good place to find this sort of information but this information needs to be better designed and easier to find.

• Web-based information should be interesting and fun with lots of

different media to present it in. It should be in child-friendly and sensitive language. It should be aimed at all children and young people but should also aim to reach groups of children who are more vulnerable or, perhaps, discriminated against.

• It is interesting that the children and young people at the events were

well motivated but no mention was made of the websites of European or international decision-makers or children’s rights organisations.

• Children and young people know best what they want and what would work best. So they should be consulted on these things if European and international government and other organisations want to get information to them.

• But children and young people said that web-based information is mainly for individuals – with some sharing being possible through social networking. So it would be useful in particular for Internet surveys, polls or discussions undertaken by the individual.

• On the whole, children and young people very much prefer to

participate with others, with friends. In the case of many young children, the presence of parents is wanted as well.

• When there are good examples of children’s participation that has been taken seriously, they should be publicised better.

These are the main messages about whether children and young people want to participate in European and international decision-making:

• The answer to the

question is a strong ‘yes’. Children and young people believe that they have a very big contribution to make and they want to influence decisions affecting them and future generations.

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• There is also a feeling that children

and young people know what things are important to younger people. They understand better than adults what problems they face and also know better how to change things for the better. They know the solutions.

• Nearly all want children and young

I feel that I have a lot to bring to the process of decision-making, I have had experiences of my rights being abused and I feel I would be a useful advocate.

people to be involved in European and (Young person, England) international decision-making but not all think that they personally are the best to do it. In that case, some other child or young person can represent them and put their views forward.

• Just a few think that children and young people should only be involved in local or national decision-making.

• Children and young people see a difference between decisions that are

to do with current times and those that are to do with the future. They want to influence the future more. They think that they care about the future because they will be the adults then and they want the world to be better. Children and young people are more motivated than adults to keep the future in good shape. Many younger children are as interested and willing to participate in European and international decision-making processes as older young people, but they are often more interested in decisions about things that are important in their lives at the moment (like school or opportunities to play and have fun).

• Very young children tend not to be involved or to have their view of things properly understood and taken into account. This is not fair and means their rights are not being followed properly.

Because some adults will have short term attitudes as they want to make money first and will not have to cope with the poor condition of our world in 50 years time. Children will try to build a world they want to live in. (Young person, England)

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• Some young people express concern that, in Europe, a person called

a “youth” can be up to around 30 years old and that this causes some confusion about putting into practice the rights of under 18 year-olds.

• Many see that decisions that have taken

account of their views are stronger decisions.

• Children and young people believe that

they have views that are fresh and new. They think that they can challenge the attitudes of adults that are stuck in time.

Children adapt to changes faster than adults. (Girl, 15 years, Estonia)

• It is worrying that many, perhaps most, children and young people do not have faith that they will be listened to. They believe that they will not be taken seriously or have an impact on decisions.

• Many want a lower voting age (although some in Europe now have a lower voting age of 16).

These are the main messages about children and young people’s actual experience of participating in European and international decision-making:

• Very few children and young people have personal experience of being

involved in European or international decision-making processes. More have participated in local, provincial or national processes.

• The majority of those with

experience of being involved in decision-making at the European and international levels were supported by NGOs. These children and young people say that they were well supported and encouraged by the NGOs.

I feel there are better qualified people to do so, I can speak to them and they can take it further. (Young person, England)

• NGOs work well and effectively but with only a small proportion of the population of children and young people.

• There is a common view that the same people are involved over again when they have become involved with an NGO. There is a sort of “elite” group.

• The question of whether these involved

children and young people represent their own views or the views of others in their communities was not so clear.

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Those who do, do everything.

(Young person, England)


• Very few find opportunities or participate

independently other than through web-based surveys or polls.

• NGOs report being unable to do more because of a lack of money. Children and young people also thought that this was a problem.

• A lack of time to prepare for decision-making

Young people simply aren’t respected by the government institutions. (Young person, Ireland)

opportunities makes it hard for NGOs to reach out to more children and young people. NGOs do want, and do try, to include more vulnerable or disadvantaged children and young people.

• Short timescales limit good preparation. • Most children and young people think that they would have no impact on

European or international decision-making. They fear that they would not be taken seriously. Some think that participation is tokenistic. NGOs sometimes also feel that this can still be what happens, but not in every situation.

If something is tokenistic, it is just a show. What people say and propose does not have an influence.

• Others think that it is only some adult decision-makers who do not listen to children and young people and whose ideas are fixed.

• It is interesting that those who have

Children see things actual experience of participation are more likely to think that they differently; it is different are listened to and have an impact from a grown-up view. on decisions. An example of this is (Girl, 16 years, Estonia) when children and young people prepare and report direct to the Committee on the Rights of the Child and then see good results.

• Children and young people, as well as NGOs, think that confidence in

participation working well would come from better feedback. That is done by having a plan or system for monitoring what happens to see if children and young people’s views actually influence decisions. Children and young people who have worked with NGOs that monitor processes and give feedback are more satisfied and confident.

Monitoring is to watch the progress of something and see how successful it has been, or to check that something is being done properly. Monitoring can show whether what has been suggested is taken seriously or has changed the way decisions have been made. 13


• The main barrier to participation

A lot of it seems to be

in European and international like a token thing, do decision-making processes is you know what I mean? simply a lack of information and opportunity. Many other barriers (Young person, England) were also identified and it is important to take action to break these down. These are mainly barriers that are hard for children and young people to break down and it is for governments and adult organisations to do this.

People are more likely to participate if they: • are already involved in groups (like school councils, youth parliament) or NGOs • have a privileged background (enjoy many more opportunities than other people their age) • have a wealthy family • have family or parents who are interested in current affairs • live in cities • live in more developed countries • are achieving good results in education • know foreign languages • have encouraging teachers and schools • have access to the Internet.

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People are less likely to participate if they: • live in rural and underdeveloped areas • believe there is tokenism and that no-one will listen and nothing will change • have no faith in politics and decision-makers • fear others thinking that they are not cool • fear that they are, or will be, discriminated against (for example, for belonging to a minority ethnic group, or for having a disability) • have too many responsibilities at home or for school work.


Recommendations for improvement The Speak to the World project has learned from the views of children and young people and from the NGO survey and literature review. Now ideas can be put forward about how to improve the involvement and influence of children and young people in European and international decision-making processes.

Improve information and opportunities

Children know best the situation about their rights and can provide concrete information at international level. Children understand best when their rights are violated.

(Boy, 14 years, Romania) The European and international institutions should make sure that information about decision-making processes and opportunities for participation does get to the places children and young people say they want to find it. That is mainly to their schools and teachers. This would be better if NGOs also worked closely with schools and colleges to provide information and to offer support and encouragement. Also, there should be more child-led organisations that could be given information and opportunities directly. If all schools were committed to participation, there would be school councils with students able to access information and to tell others about their rights and opportunities to influence decisions. Children and young people do not find much information from the Internet, but they do think that the Internet could and should be a good source. Children and young people are the ones who know best how the Internet can work for them. They should be asked to help to make it work better. The development of child-led social media and networks should be funded and encouraged.

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Bridge the gap between the decision-making institutions and children’s own experience Good laws and policies written on paper are not enough. There is a gap between what these laws and policies say should happen and what children and young people actually experience. This gap needs to be bridged.

A policy is a set of ideas or a plan about what to do on a particular issue.

Build direct links with children using a ‘tiered’ structure Children and young people want better systems with a tiered approach. A tiered approach is one that has small organisations (like school councils and child-led organisations) that talk to one another (like a group of school councils in a region or province). They can then talk to other groups nationally and then connect with Europe-wide groups and organisations. Children and young people at the Ireland consultation event came up with their own system: The young people believe that the participation process would be different if they were in charge as children, in that they would actually be listened to through better student councils and a tiered (local, provincial, national) representation system for all young people in the country – there would be a democratic, youth-run model children’s government that could be consulted both nationally and internationally. There would be more (chances) for young people to become involved by having more youth workshops and consultations, and by providing funding for (developing a) student council network. The voting age would be lowered to 16 years and an online voter registration system introduced. Younger people would be enabled and empowered to become involved in the EU and run for election to the European Parliament so that representatives were not as out of touch with young people. They would put in place a facility whereby all policy could be reviewed online prior to implementation so that the public could submit their comments on it. Child delegates would be sent to the EU and UN to speak on certain policy issues. Young people would definitely be involved in decisions that affect them. 16


Democracy is system of government based on freedom and equality, where the power is either held by representatives who have been elected, or by the people themselves. Democracy can operate at different levels, from school to youth parliaments and to the European Parliament. Empowerment. People becoming more informed and involved. People who are empowered usually feel good about themselves and enjoy being part of making change happen – in their own lives, and in the wider community and society. Being respected is a big part of being empowered. At the moment, NGOs are the most effective organisations at helping children and young people to participate in European and international decision-making processes. The work of NGOs should be better funded to support even more children and young people and in better ways. This support would be for individuals, as at present, but also for groups, like school groups and for really encouraging and helping child-led organisations. NGOs are good at organising events and surveys nationally or locally that can be sent to European and international decision-making bodies. NGOs are also good at making it possible for children and young people to travel across Europe and the world to have their say direct to decision-makers.

Make it easy for children to put forward their ideas about what needs to change Children and young people believe that they know best what the important issues are for them. They know their own needs and concerns. They know best how to improve the lives of We have a lot of children and young people and when experience and their rights are knowledge about our not respected.

situation and this makes us better judges than the adults of the services that impact on us. (Girl, 16 years, Romania)

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So adults should make ways for children and young people to say what needs to be changed and should take that seriously. They should remember that children and young people are creative and want creative ways to give their opinions.

More commitment to participation from schools and colleges

I think that the barrier is the lack of support from adults and being afraid of not getting my opinions accepted. (Girl, 15 years, Romania)

Children and young people identify the importance of their schools and colleges but they often think that there is not enough commitment to participation and children’s rights. Governments and local education departments should encourage, or require, schools to be more committed.

Break down the barriers to involvement Children and young people see, perhaps better than adults, the barriers to the involvement of many people. Some of these are listed in this report and should be taken into account when designing new ways of providing information and then encouraging and supporting individuals and groups to participate.

Use child-friendly methods and language Children and young people report often being bored when reading information or attending events which are about their lives. This can be sorted by asking children and young people for advice on making things more interesting.

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Young people must be better informed, but they themselves also have to take matters seriously (Young person, Austria)

At the European Parliament we have been taken into account more than adults, just because we were more truthfully, directly involved, while adults presented reports in a superficial way.

Children and young people said they wanted those people facilitating (Girl, 17 years, Romania) opportunities to be creative, and recognise that formal meetings are not always the best way to get to the views of children and young people.

Improve the confidence of children and young people that their views will be acted on It is a worry that children and young people do not generally believe that their views will be taken seriously and will not have an impact on decisionmaking at the European and international levels. Many have the same sort of view about local or school-based processes. A picture of tokenism is still in place for many children and young people. Action must be taken to improve confidence in decision-making and then to convince Europe’s children and young people that this has been achieved. This can be done by encouraging systems of measurement and monitoring of decisions and whether children and young people have been taken seriously. This does happen in some settings and organisations but needs to be further developed and used more widely across Europe and internationally. It is clear that those children and young people who have experienced monitoring and feedback have much more positive opinions about the value of their involvement. Good examples should be advertised widely.

Children have better insight than adults in matters of their own concern (Young person, Austria)

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