Children’s Participation: From Tokenism to Citizenship

A nation is democratic to the extent that its citizens are involved, particularly at the community level. The confi- dence and competence to be involved must be gradually acquired through practice. It is for this reason that there should be gradually increasing opportunities for children to participate in any aspiring democracy, and particularly in those nations already convinced that they are democratic. With the growth of children’s rights we are beginning to see an increasing rec- ognition of children’s abilities to speak for themselves. Regrettably, while children’s and youths’ participation does occur in different degrees around the world, it is often exploitative or frivolous. This Essay is designed to stimulate a dialogue on this important topic.

It might be argued that ‘participation’ in society begins from the moment a child enters the world and discovers the extent to which she is able to influence events by cries or movements. This would be a broader definition of partici- pation than can be handled in this Essay, but it is worth bearing in mind that through these early negotiations, even in infancy, children discover the extent to which their own voices influence the course of events in their lives. The degree and nature of their influence varies greatly according to the culture or the particular family. This Essay, however, focuses entirely on children in the public domain: school, community groups, other organizations or informal groups beyond the family. It does not address preschool children or some of the important issues of children’s social and economic participa- tion within their families.

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Title:  Children’s Participation: From Tokenism to Citizenship

Author(s): Roger Hart

Publication Date: 1992

Publisher: UNICEF International Child Development Centre