Children’s Citizenship & Participation in Governance

From its inception CERG has taken every opportunity to create ways to involve children themselves in the process of research, planning and design of environments, beginning with the three special issues of Childhood City Newsletter on “Children’s Participation” that we edited with Robin Moore in 1979 and 1980. In 1989, recognition of the rights and capacities of children to have a greater voice in their own development and in the development of their communities, took a giant leap forward with the passage of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).  We embraced this new vision, and our exposure to the creativity of child rights advocates in other countries began to extend our thinking in important ways (link to our CERG Publications on children’s participation). But while there has been much innovation in involving children in decision-making it is usually through short-run projects initiated by adults. This inevitably leads to many instances where adults involve children in token ways and limits the degree to which children themselves have sustained opportunities to participate with one another, and with adults, in meaningful ways. This has lead CERG to focus increasingly on issues of governance with children.

Governance with children has been thought of primarily in terms of their formal participation in structures designed and controlled by adults such as children’s councils and parliaments. These are commonly non-representative, tokenistic and involve only small numbers of children and so, not surprisingly, are often seen as frivolous. Also, too much of the effort has been concerned with higher levels of  government, in international and national conferences and in municipalities,  with little serous experimentation with ways of involving children in community governance. In reaction to this state of affairs CERG  is finding ways to help children to build on their inherent, everyday, desire to collaborate with one another on issues that concern them (see Hart, R. Children, self-governance and citizenship. In C. Burke & K. Jones (Eds.), Education, Childhood and Anarchism: Talking Colin Ward).  We believe that children’s governance should thought of as a fundamental means of enabling children to act cooperatively on their rights and  their best interests:  sometimes to protect themselves,  at other times to improve conditions of their everyday surroundings  and more generally to play meaningful roles in the development of their communities. To this end CERG  began to partner with WorldVision and Save the Children (Norway) in 2010 on an international  program called “Article 15”  and with their funding a set of tools has been developed to enable children to assess and reflect upon their organisation (crc15.org).

CERG is also interested in finding ways to document and evaluate the different structures and processes used by communities and municipal governments to involve children in local government decisions.

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