Speech/statement | Date: 29.06.2005
Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik
Opening of Childhoods 2005
University of Oslo, 29 June 2005
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour for me to open this global conference addressing modern childhood and youth. It is also a great pleasure to meet so many prominent people from all over the world who dedicate themselves to the well-being of children.
The Norwegian child welfare authorities have a motto: - Take children seriously. Research on children and youth and the family is one way of taking children seriously, and an important one. It is a crucial source of information and knowledge for society in general, and results should be given back to the target groups.
Research also provides an important basis for policymaking in areas that affect children and youth in every society. Research on children and youth has major cross-cultural aspects, and should be the focus of international attention and co-operation. I appreciate the initiative taken by the University of Oslo to promote this important goal.
The University of Oslo has declared that this conference is its official contribution to the celebration of the peaceful dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden one hundred years ago, on 7 June 1905. Both the Norwegians and the Swedes decided that there was nothing to gain by a war between the two countries. The best solution was to end the union. This willingness to compromise in order to resolve a conflict peacefully can serve as an example to conflict-ridden areas today. War must always be the very last resort. Throughout history we have seen the devastating effects of war on society and on children in particular.
The peaceful dissolution of the union also had an international impact. Norway was formally recognised as an independent state and established diplomatic relations with other nations. Norway could speak with a voice of its own in the international community. Since then we have continued to develop a democratic society, based on human rights and equal opportunities for all our citizens. Today we are engaged in peacemaking efforts in many parts of the world. Without peace there can be no development.
You might ask: Where is the connection between the dissolution of the union and the situation of today’s children and youth?
I believe that the same values that were important in becoming an independent nation and building a democratic society are recognised values in childhood and adolescence development today.
After the dissolution of the union, Norway was met with respect and recognition by the international community. Norway could speak with its own voice. We were able to develop our own skills and competence.
We have learned from the past one hundred years that children and youth must be met with respect and recognition by the adult community. Children and youth must speak with their own voice and they must be listened to. Through meaningful activities and tasks, children are able to develop self-confidence and grow as individuals.
In fact, these values are important principles in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The child’s right to express his or her views and to be heard, the child’s right to protection against all forms of discrimination, the child’s right to life, survival and development are all general principles in the Child Convention. 192 countries have ratified the Convention, which give all states an obligation to take children seriously.
The Convention is universal, and offers a common language and understanding of childhood and children’s needs. This common understanding is of great value both in international research and in all co-operation between societies. Therefore, I am pleased to see that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is well represented on the programme for the conference.
Until the last world war, and to some extent during the post-war years, there was a common understanding that children learn and develop primarily by being passive recipients of information from their surroundings. Children were more or less regarded as empty vessels that could be filled with impressions, and in this ways learn sufficiently about their surroundings.
Through the past century children have gradually been increasingly seen as subjects acting independently. Professionals have come to understand that children are able to comprehend, select and actively organise their sensory impressions, take the initiative and make discoveries.
The modern idea of the child is an active partner who should to be regarded as a person who is perfectly capable of taking the initiative and making a contribution. The child should be regarded as an equal partner in a process where children and adults interact and learn from each other.
Many societies face the dilemma that yesterday’s solutions do not always match today’s problems and challenges. Society changes so rapidly that a gap may arise between existing policies and what is needed to cope with new challenges. Participation by children and young people can be an important supplement in understanding the situation and finding solutions.
In previous times, when many societies were less complex and more resistant to change, more or less all learning took place in the form of the transfer of knowledge and skills from one generation to the next.
In the modern world a significant amount of learning and cultural transfers take place in the form of processes between children and young people themselves. Children and youths create their own cultures - cultures that often cross national borders. The impact of modern media has contributed to making youth culture a world-wide phenomenon. Today many young people travel all over the world, as tourists, volunteers, or students. This trend may provide the basis for a growing cross-cultural understanding. Young people have a better potential for fostering this understanding than the older generations.
In certain fields the adult community receives so much input from children and young people that the traditional learning process is reversed.
There are several reasons for this.
Young people spend more time on their education than their parents did.
They are older than their parents were when they settle down with a job and a family. This freedom from responsibility makes them less bound by convention, more open to alternatives and more receptive to new ideas.
In this way young people serve as antennas, picking up signals that are too weak for adults to detect. This applies to a number of areas, including new trends in fashion and music, and especially in relation to the new media. It also applies to young people’s commitment to gender equality, the fight against discrimination, opposition to violence and racism, and protection of the environment.
Given this dimension, it is perhaps more important than ever to ensure that children and young people are able to participate in and influence society. Today and in the future children and youth represent new resources and are “agents of change”. How this potential is to be utilised is largely up to the adult community.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We need the international research community so we can frame out evident based policy. Researchers from different parts of the world have a great challenge: You must focus on the potential of children and youth, and their possibilities and achievements visible. We depend on their abilities and potential to make progress, to be able to make positive changes in nation building, in the development of democracy, and peacemaking.
Ladies and gentlemen, with this challenge, I wish you all a successful conference.