Presentation by Ms Leda Koursoumba, Vice – Chairman of ENOC, Commissioner for Children’s Rights (Cyprus) at the 6th European Forum on the Rights of the Child
Brussels, 23 November 2011
“Communication with Children about their rights”
Communication with children, from a children’s rights perspective, implies, the active participation of children –as active citizens - in an on-going dialogue with adults, based on mutual respect and power sharing, in any decision – making, in matters that concern them.
- Communication as participation
The empowerment of children in advance and the promotion of their capacity to form opinions and feel confident to express them, are necessary preconditions for any effective communication with children. Genuine communication with children in the form of active participation, is a right safeguard by the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The CRC lays the foundation for a new concept of children and childhood. Children should not be perceived as, “not yets”, as “human beings in the making” but as “beings” “entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. The conception of children as subjects of rights grands them a more equal role in their relationship with adults. Children are no longer, considered to be, merely passive recipients of adult’s experience, simple consumers of adults’ opinions and ideas, but active social agents, purposefully engaged in their surroundings from an early age. Participation is a human right for all children – and as such, it is not a gift or privilege bestowed by adults on children, but the right of every child capable of expressing a view.
- Participation as a right under the CRC
The CRC does not spell out a right to participation as such. However, there is a cluster of rights, securing the right of the child to be heard and have his/ her views taken into consideration, the freedom of expression, the freedom of thought, etc [Articles 12, 13, 14, 15 and 17], wherefrom the participation rights can be deduced. The Committee on the Rights of the Child, has recognized participation one of the general principles underlying the CRC, which must be taken into the account in the interpretation of all other provisions and as guiding their implementation [ CRC/ GC/ No. 4 (2003), Adolescent health and development in the context of the Convention on the Rights of the Child]
Policy makers, usually, design and implement their policies on the assumption that programs for adults would equally benefit children as well. This assumption is founded on the belief that, adults “know better” and are in a position to determine what the best interest of children is. Consultation with children is not but a waste of money, energy and time, a luxury that policy makers can’t afford.
- Benefits from Children’s Participation
However, during the last decades, it became more and more evident, supported by research findings in various of scientific fields, that participation of children is more than a legal obligation. Perceiving and treating children as actors of social life and holders of rights, is essential for the realization and the promotion of all rights of children. More precisely:
· Participation contributes to child’s personal development
Participation is beneficial to the child’s personal development self-fulfilment. By participating, children develop skills, build competences, form aspirations, gain self-confidence, enhance their self-esteem and attain valuable resources to deal with their own lives and engage in society
· Participation enhances democracy
Participation introduces children to democratic procedures. Through participation, children, are provided with opportunities to express themselves, to experience respect for their own views and to learn to respect the views of others. By this, they develop the capacity and willingness to listen to others and, thus, begin to understand the process and value of democracy. As Hart (1992: 5) argues, “it is unrealistic to expect [children and young people] suddenly to become responsible, participating adult citizens at the age of 16, 18 or 21 without prior exposure to the skills and responsibilities involved” Hart R. Children’s Participation: From Tokenism to Citizenship. Innocenti Essays No. 4. New York:
· Participation promotes children’s rights
Through participation, children gain confidence and competence to make informed decisions; they are empowered to take greater responsibilities for the exercise of their own rights and are better equipped to deal with abuse and exploitation.
· Participation improves services provided to children
Children have a body of experience and knowledge, that is unique to their situation; and this often makes them better and more consistent judges than adults of the services that impart on them. In this respect, children’s participation leads to an increased knowledge of their needs and thereby to better decisions and more effective public policies.
xxxxxI will now focus, very briefly, on some of what I consider “good practices” of an effective communication with children. Firstly, I will present some of my activities at national level, in Cyprus; then, I will refer to an inter-European project initiated by the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children (ENOC).
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child stresses that, independent national human rights institutions (Commissioners or Ombudspersons for Children) are important mechanisms for the promotion and monitoring of the implementation of the CRC at national level [CRC/ GC/ No. 2 (2002), The role of independent national human rights institutions in the promotion and protection of the rights of the child]. The Committee, further, “encourages the direct involvement of children in monitoring the implementation of all rights enshrined in the Convention”. (Committee on the Rights of the Child , Day of General Discussion on the Right of the Child to Be Heard, Forty-third session, 11-29 September 2006)
- Commissioners / Ombudspersons for Children
As the Commissioner for Children’s Rights in Cyprus, my activities in this respect aim, on the one hand, at creating awareness on the importance of the legal obligation to safeguard children’s participation at all levels of society and, on the other, to monitor governmental and legislative action, so as to ensure that policies, decisions, practices and legislation are harmonized with the CRC principle of participation.
- Commissioner for Children’s Rights - Cyprus
Taking children’s opinion into consideration in all my decisions, has been elevated to a constant guideline for my work as Commissioner.
In the spirit of the right to Participation, the logo of the Commissioner’s Office was adopted, after giving an opportunity to children to consider my proposal and the reasoning behind its design and express their views. That was a first small step towards the full involvement of children in the monitoring procedures of children’s rights in Cyprus, which had, however, an important symbolic value for me… and for them!
The tools we use for the promotion children’s participation include:
· The organization of events – e.g. the Annual Events for 20th November involve children as creators and participants
· Commissioner’s Visits to Schools Program – listening to children’s concerns, exchange of views and empowering them
· Commissioner’s Website - featuring a specific field of communication with children and the possibility to submit and collect their views, respecting their anonymity, if they so wish
· Effective interaction and cooperation with children’s organized bodies – Children’s Parliament, Pancyprian Coordinating Student’s Committee (ΠΣΕΜ)
· Competitions for children - poetry, poster,
· Children as members of panels to judge competitions - such as a poetry, posters, theatrical play-writing
· Representation of children and their interest in court – prior consultation with children
· Logo for YAT - open competition for young people for the design, participation to the decision making
· Commissioner’s Youth Advisors Team - Genuine participation requires the creation of formal structures in all institutions dealing with or rendering services to children. For an effective communication with children, it is important to provide them with the appropriate information in a language that they will understand (depending on their age, maturity and capacities), to train them to develop their participation competences and to empower them, so they can claim and exercise all their rights, including participation rights. Above of all, it is important to create for children a participative climate, that will allow them to freely form and express their point of view.
o Eight advisors are members of the first team who remained in an effort to allow new members to gain from their experience and knowledge.
With all these in mind, in February 2010, I established my Youth Advisors Team (YAT). It consisted of 30 boys and girls in equal numbers, age 13 -17, emanating from all sectors of Cyprus and different social backgrounds, including children in care institutions or with foster families and migrant or refugee children. The majority of the advisors came from organized bodies of children who already had established a steady communication and cooperation with the Commissioner, e.g. the Children´s Parliament and the Pancyprian Coordinating Student´s Committee (ΠΣΕΜ).
This year, (2011) my Youth Advisors Team is in full operation. It consists of 36 advisors, boys and girls that expressed their interest to participate, in response to a call I made through my website. The selection of the members of the new team was based on the same criteria as for 2010, with fewer members from the organized bodies. The intention is to have as advisors young people from a variety of socio-cultural backgrounds.
Based on the experience gained during the first year and, particularly, on the views expressed by the members of the first YAT, at consultations we had at the end of their term, we introduced several changes in an effort to make it more effective and more child-friendly.
o The new YAT started with a two-day workshop during which the youth had the opportunity of -
- bonding with each other / the Commissioner / the facilitators of the team.
- actively engaging in a learning process on the rights of the child, aiming to encourage their behavioral and attitudinal change regarding these rights.
o The frequency of meetings of the team with the Commissioner increased to almost once a month (from 4 in the first year).
o Each meeting will be focused on a specific topic related to children’s rights. All topics are related to the Commissioner’s priorities and were selected in consultation with the YAT.
o At every meeting the YAT will be given the appropriate information, relating to the topic of discussion, adapted to their level of development; this will refer generally to the relevant provisions of the CRC as also to specific matters (important stakeholders involved, interested parties, various perspectives of the topic) necessary for the topic in discussion.
o The YAT will have the opportunity to first discuss exhaustively among themselves and then with the Commissioner.
o The Commissioner has committed herself to take into consideration all opinions and/or suggestions expressed by the YAT, and that, at a later stage, she will inform them on all the actions she will undertake based on their recommendations.
o My YAT is a member of ENYA
The European Network of Ombudsperson for Children ENOC – (established in 1997, aiming to link independent national institutions in European States)-, launched in February 2010 the ENOC Network of Youth Advisors – ENYA in an effort to give a new dimension to its work through the participation of children.
ENYA is composed of children and young people working together with Ombudspersons for children on common recommendations that will be addressed to the highest authorities at national, European and international level.
In 2010 ENOC gave 4 topics for discussion, namely, Education/ Health/ Violence/ Internet and the use of new technologies, and operated an e-forum. Individual Commissioners had established procedures for their Youth Advisors Teams whereby they had the opportunity to discuss these topics with facilitators at national level and then to exchange views through the e-forum.
In October 2010, two members from each national Youth Advisors Team who had participated in the e-forum with their respective facilitators and Commissioner met in Strasbourg, where they had the opportunity to discuss these topics in person among themselves and with the Commissioner. Both sides (ENYA members and ENOC members) presented their comments and proposals to each other and then a discussion followed. At a special session in the Palais de l’ Europe of the Council of Europe, Youth Advisors expressed their views before the national Commissioners and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg.
By May 2011, 226 forum users had been registered to the e-forum from approximately 17 countries, and 38 discussions threads were opened. Through the network’s forum, the advisors had the opportunity to exchange views and form their own proposals on matters relating to them, which they later submitted to their Ombuds at a national level as also to ENOC.
The views expressed by the young people were taken on board by the Commissioners. In June 2011, two young people from various national Youth Advisors Teams met in Northern Ireland at the Office of the national Commissioner and together with the respective Commissioners discussed further their expectations from their Commissioners at national and at European level.
The end product of this consultation was a series of suggestions for each topic, which were presented by representatives of ENYA during the ENOC Annual Conference in Warsaw in September 2011. ENOC members committed themselves to elaborate on these suggestions and inform ENYA members, in due time, about their future actions and responses.
We are now at the stage where, an ENOC Working Group has been given the task to consider the future of ENYA on the experienced gained and the consultations with the children. The future of ENYA will, in fact, depend on whether or not ENOC receives funding from the EU.
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