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Child Participation in India Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Shweta, India Jun 27, 2006
Child & Youth Rights   Opinions


According to a study carried out for Save the Children (Tolfree 1998), the following three strategies were adopted for child participation:

• Consultation - activities focused on seeking children’s views and allowing them a voice in actions affecting them

•Organisation - activities whereby children organise events or actions, including cultural events and their own organisations and associations

• Protagonism - activities in which children act as advocates on their own behalf or take on a proactive development role, imparting and receiving information.

Initially, child participation usually happens though consultation, with organisational and protagonist activities more strongly afterwards.
[SCUK OVC Participation Report, August 2004] Children’s participation occurs in a deliberate and structured manner through:

i) Events held at local, national, regional and international levels in which children are encouraged to voice their concerns

ii) ‘Children’s parliaments’, either at local or national level

iii) Participatory research undertaken in direct relation to agency programming of policy development/review

iv) Community/school projects in which children work with adults

v) Child-led initiatives such as clubs, awareness raising groups or associations (e.g. child workers or street children)

The quality of participation work, however, has been variable. In India, there are models like Bal Panchayat, Children’s Bank, Participation model focused on HIV/AIDS. However, successful models are rare and there is a need to standardize the “what” and "how" of the processes.

Rights’ violation in participation

Every child has a right to participate in the decisions that impact his/her life. Yet, voices of children are not heard. Often, they are considered incapable of exercising any choices concerning their life and even if their participation is sought, it is usually done in a tokenistic, exploitative, and manipulative manner. In many activities, it might seem that children and young people are actively participating but in reality they may not be. Their participation is usually more of an add-on entity. It is seen very often that children are used to advocate - less for their rights and more for fulfilling the agenda of various organisations. They are involved simply because that is expected as an activity in a project. Children actually do not get the space where they could influence decisions.

The developmental needs of children are either not understood, or overlooked. Many times, adults assume that they know all the needs of children and therefore, can decide what is best for them. Such a scenario begin at home, where children’s views are often not listened to. This is also true of almost all the homes for children run by government-and NGOs.

“What is a right?” is understood by each adult in a different manner. For many children, the right to be treated with equal respect and dignity is violated. Children are labelled, abused and discriminated against. All this, unfortunately, also happens in the processes which are supposed to provide care and protection to children. Even this role of “providing” is abused more as a “power” where an adult decides what a child should or should not get.

“Care” is also many times limited to providing food, shelter and education, if possible. Adults invariably hold more social power than children. The most extreme consequences of this power relation are many kinds of abuse, neglect and maltreatment encountered by vulnerable children. Rights are violated even by those who consider themselves to be the most rights-oriented. Violation is to the extent that the incidents of abuse in one’s own organisation are buried and not reported. The need to protect the image of an organisation more often than not surpasses that need to ensure the rights of a child. What is in the “Best Interest” of the child is often debated upon as everybody struggles for a right answer to this.

In such a scenario, it becomes inevitable that “what is rights based participation?” is not only understood but also practiced. This obviously leads us to the “how” of the participation. If what is happening right now is not rights based participation then how do we reach the goal of rights based programming and participation?

Mental Health Impact of Non Participation

When a child is not given any opportunity to participate in decisions which impact her directly or indirectly, it affects not only her decision-making capacity but also her sense of dignity and control. Any event which overlooks or dismisses the views of a child has a potential of harming a child’s right and becoming an abusive experience. An environment where a child is only seen as a recipient and dependent, has the risk of giving power only to adults. Such power can be abused and may lead to exploitation of children.

Any child who grows up facing abusive, exploitative and excluding experiences is likely to have a shattered sense of identity. Every new experience has a risk of being perceived as abusive. Such a child often lives with the feelings of anger, hurt, guilt, and mistrust. The child facing adversity may also go through an acceleration of the developmental cycle, a foreshortened view of future, trauma, disillusionment, lack of attachments and depression. The child may live with the thoughts of:


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Shweta has been working in the development sector for the last 6 years. Her association started when she enrolled herself in the Post Graduation course in Social work. Her perspectives have grown with her work at Saarthak.
Saarthak is a Non-Governmental Organization, working in the field of mental health.

Child Panchayats
jamal siddiqui | Aug 16th, 2006
it's a good one....! Do you know about "Bal Panchayats" here in rajasthan one of our partner NGO is working on it...it is also on similar lines of Child participation. How do you link it with mental health? that is not very clear to me...its about rights i think. what do you think???

rights and mental health
Shweta | Aug 17th, 2006
rights are linked very much with mental health. and violation of your right (including right to participate) imjapcts your mental health directly. You can look at the secion on "mental health imapacts of non particiaption". it breifly shares how when we are not able to participate..our thinking pattners get impacted. these thinking patterns only then start defining our personality.

vas | Aug 31st, 2006
I agree with you.at a flower stall i met gajanand ,a lad of 14 .he works in hismorning ,in evening works for the flower vendor .he dropped school at 11 years t share family burden.he has two unmarried sisters,one widow aunt,to young brothers to look after.14 is not the age to think about family burden.

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