Historical archive

Building a Europe for and with children: Developing child participation

Historical archive

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Children and Equality

We need to meet children as competent individuals who want to share their opinions with us. And we have lot to learn. One example: Racism or ethnic discrimination. Children are colour-blind. They will say that discrimination is unfair and not right. As simple as that. Don’t bully my friend. Children’s participation is important in all areas of their life. Such as schools, local councils, leisure organizations, residential institutions, international organizations and so forth

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Building a Europe for and with children towards a strategy for 2009-2011
Stockholm, 9. September 2008

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, friends!
It is a great pleasure for me to speak here today, on behalf of the Norwegian Ministry of Children and Equality. In August 2002, Norway was the host of the European Conference on Child and Youth Participation in Society. The title was: Nothing about us, without us. That title still stands, and it describes what this is all about.

We need to meet children as competent individuals who want to share their opinions with us. And we have lot to learn. One example: Racism or ethnic discrimination. Children are colour-blind. They will say that discrimination is unfair and not right. As simple as that. Don’t bully my friend. Children’s participation is important in all areas of their life. Such as schools, local councils, leisure organizations, residential institutions, international organizations and so forth.

I will address the following challenges as most important in the future. First, I strongly advice that the Council of Europe continue to enhance children’s influence in the further development of children’s participation.

And secondly I recommend that the question about what kind of issues and what kind of methods should be discussed with national youth councils, in every country.

To promote participation we need long term planning, to ensure sustainable participation. To achieve this I believe it to be crucial that we ensure that participation is not symbolic. We must move from consulting to involving. We must give children the opportunity of owning their initiatives and having influence. And, sustainable participation is important to increase political engagement, but not on behalf of the government. It’s essential that children participate for their own sake, on their own matters and to improve their own quality of life.

It’s essential to secure child participants the resources of good structures and channels. And we need to evaluate how these structures are functioning. Because non-functioning –child participating jeopardise both democracy and development.

I believe it possible to secure children’s rights to participation in many laws. In Norway we try to work actively to promote children’s participation by giving greater legitimacy trough legislation. This we believe to be a key issue to ensure sustainability of children’s participation. The UN convention on the rights of the child is a part of Norwegian legislation.
The UN convention on the rights of the child says that the views of the child must be given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child. In our last act for kindergartens in Norway the children are secured the right to express their views and participate in planning and evaluation of the ordinary activity in the kindergarten.

We have established mechanisms of participation in organisations, institutions and municipalities. In schools we have pupils` councils and coordinating committees. My political awaking started in a pupils council. I actually arranged a strike. About 75 per cent of Norwegian municipalities have established a municipal children’s assembly or a municipal youth council. And several counties have established county youth councils.

We are supporting young people’s own organisations. Through a system of administrative funding, youth NGOs can maintain a more independent profile to give their support or criticism when they feel it is needed.

Each year the minister of Children and Equality awards a price to a municipality which has shown an outstanding level of children’s participation. We have learned a lot from these municipalities. They inspire and stand out as skilful guides. In 2006 our Ministry also published a circular on the participation and influence of children and young people in municipalities and a manual on youth councils.

Still, at many areas do children experience the lack of power or influence. And we need to put great effort in involving marginalized children, and youth who tends to fall outside the mainstream youth culture. Especially when we are working on developing special areas within the child policy we can arrange meetings with representatives from the groups of children that are affected. So we need to have a special attention to ethnic minorities, youth with disabilities, gay and lesbian youth and children under the custody of the authorities. We must also have a gender focus.

Every child will obtain personal development and growth, self-confidence and confidence in others, if listened to and taken seriously. I believe we all learn responsibility, solidarity, openness and independence as valuable assets to our lives if taken seriously. And these values are best learned through practicing participation and through common solving of problems.

And still, there are so many areas where children still have no power or influence. And there are so many matters concerning children and young people, so many issues to discuss in a dialogue.

Maybe we should start with ourselves as parents: Try not to use the argument; “That’s the way it is – because I’am your father”. I have to admit that I still use that argument now and then, especially when I feel I am losing the battle with my sons. But I am improving and they don’t accept this argument any more.

Let me conclude by quoting Mrs. Maud de Boer-Buquicchio and make her, as I understand repeating words mine: Children are not minipersons with mini rights.

Thank you!