Giving Children a Voice Can Lead to Better Outcomes for All: Developing the New European Strategy on the Rights of the Child


Nov 3, 2020

Illustration of silhouettes of a group of chidlren with speech bubbles, all in rainbow colors, photo by melitas/Getty Images

Photo by melitas/Getty Images

The European Union recently held the 13th annual Forum on the Rights of the Child, during which experts from a range of sectors who work on issues relating to children came together to discuss how best to guarantee the realisation of children's rights.

This year's conference focused on the EU strategy on the rights of the child, set to be implemented between 2021 and 2024. The aim of the strategy is to provide a framework for EU action to better promote and protect children's rights. It will include a set of measures looking at protecting the rights of the most vulnerable children, children's rights in a digital age, preventing violence against children, and promoting child-friendly justice.

Participants in the forum included policymakers, judicial and child protection practitioners, ombudspersons for children, international and non-governmental organisations, and staff from EU institutions and agencies. Perhaps most importantly, the event was also attended by children and young people themselves. They were asked to express their views on the topics discussed, as well as to reflect on what adults said and share their feedback.

The participation of children and young people in this event is in line with growing recognition of the importance of giving children the opportunity to participate in EU political and democratic life. The right of children to participate is enshrined in Article 12 of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC). Under this treaty, one of the most widely ratified human rights conventions, state parties oblige themselves to ensure that children are given the right to express their own views “freely in all matters affecting the child [and that] the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.”

However, more could be done to make sure that this principle is translated into practice, and that children can express their views and that their voices are heard, including in decisionmaking.

The current COVID-19 pandemic provides an example of where possibly better outcomes could have been reached had children's interests been more considered and some attempt made to understand the wider impact on their lives.

Governments across the world implemented measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus and for children, this has meant an interruption in their education, formal care arrangements, and leisure activities. This has not been ideal for children and there seems to be a greater recognition now of the harms caused.

There is some evidence that suggests that there are lots of benefits to children's participation in the decisions that affect them. This is not just for children themselves, but also for policy, and accordingly, for society as a whole. Talking to children to understand how the pandemic is affecting them personally is important so that better decisions can be implemented in the future.

Children's participation helps decisionmakers be more aware of children's needs and their rights.

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Research has shown that children's participation leads to improved self-esteem and confidence, and equips them with both practical and problem-solving skills (PDF). It also helps decisionmakers be more aware (PDF) of children's needs and their rights. There is also some evidence that suggests that being given the opportunity to participate in childhood has lasting impacts on civic behaviour and consciousness in adulthood.

The new EU strategy on the rights of the child will also focus on fostering children's participation. To help inform this strategy, RAND Europe, in collaboration with Eurochild, is undertaking a study on children's participation in EU political and democratic life for the European Commission. The objective of the study is to examine how children (aged 0–18) can participate in decisionmaking processes across the EU and identify examples of promising practice of children's participation that are inclusive, and in some instances, child-led.

This work builds on previous work by RAND Europe, including a policy memo, Embedding a Children's Rights Perspectives in Policy and Decision-Making. The current study will provide a more in-depth understanding of the state of play of children's participation across the EU and will also focus on improving understanding on how all children can participate—including children from vulnerable backgrounds and children with disabilities. By providing a comprehensive overview of children's participation across the EU, this research may help ensure that any forthcoming strategy effectively addresses remaining gaps.

Children have a right to participate in decisionmaking that affects them. It will be important to ensure that there are mechanisms in place to support that process, and that they are resilient, even in times of crisis.

Michaela Bruckmayer is an analyst at RAND Europe in the area of home affairs and social policy and conducts research for the European Platform for Investing in Children and the Child Participation study.

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