Child and youth participation
The active participation of children and young people is fundamental to promote the right of the child to a healthy environment effectively at local and national levels and across countries and regions. Children and young people have the right to participate.
Participation rights include freedom of expression, the right to access information and in particular the right to be heard. The right to be heard is considered one of the core principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child - UNCRC. Article 121 states that children have the right to give their opinions freely on issues that affect them and adults should listen and take them seriously.
The right of children to express themselves and be heard is fundamental to fulfilling Environmental Children’s Rights. These rights – of expressions and to be heard – are essential for children and young people to participate in environmental youth activism and policy-making processes on the environment.
There are various ways to support child and youth participation in projects and initiatives to promote the right to a healthy environment. What did we find?
- Children’s active participation from data/information collection stages which engages children in a »hands-on« approach works.
- A bottom-up approach is key: involve grassroots organisations and experts as well as local counsellors and Members of Parliament (MPs) from the very initial stages of project formulation; on a local level, this often leads to concrete action against pollution rather than topics like climate change or UN mechanisms, which are important but very abstract for communities.
- Adopting a community model of child and youth participation, which involves local experts and community members with traditional expertise can achieve active social transformation.
- Do no harm, child safeguarding and protection of young activists: In many political environments, environmental activists – both below and above the age of 18 - are threatened. The well-being of the young people we support has highest priority and needs a proper risk assessment.
Top Tips for child rights programming
To ensure effective child participation in environmental rights programmes:
- Promote child-led initiatives from a child rights-based approach and empower children and young people to carry out activities independently.
- Implement the Do no harm principle: children’s interests should come first and their needs addressed at the beginning of a project.
- Conducting a child rights risk analysis and assessment before starting the project to identify potential areas of risk in the implementation phases.
- Ensure partner organisations have and implement solid child safeguarding measures and policies. These should include:
Training of staff, practitioners and children on child safeguarding policies;
Asking staff to sign and be aware of a Code of Conduct and/or other relevant policies which should aim at the protection of children and young people participating in programming activities (for instance another policy could include an Anti-Sexual Harassment Declaration);
Setting up a committee to oversee effective compliance with the safeguarding policies in place, including first and foremost a Code of Conduct;
Disseminating relevant information on these measures/policies/declaration amongst participants to project activities. This includes: the children or young people, staff, potential partners, volunteers, parents/families/other members of the community who could be involved.
In case a partner organisation does not yet have its own child safeguarding policy, terre des hommes' Child Safeguarding Policy (available in several languages here) should serve as the safeguarding guidelines. At the same time, terre des hommes will provide the support necessary so that the partner organisation can develop its own child safeguarding policy.
- Foster effective collaborations and partnerships with other local organisations, including those supporting disadvantaged groups or minorities (for instance women groups).