I am particularly pleased to address this Conference on “Children’s Participation in Decision Making”, organized by the NGO “Hope for Children ” as the final activity of the project “Children of Cyprus and Humans Rights”, which was funded by the NGO Fund in Cyprus within the framework of the EEA Financial Mechanism and the Norwegian Financial Mechanism.
Human Rights Education (HRE), the central theme of the “Children of Cyprus and Human Rights” education project, is the cornerstone in building a culture for human rights. A culture, which will allow a social change that will pare the way to a society in which human rights in general and, more specifically, children’s rights are respected. The promotion of HRE is based on the understanding that acceptance of human rights as basic norms and standards of our life, can contribute to the long-term prevention of violent conflicts, to the promotion of social cohesion, to equality and sustainable development and to the enhancement of participation in decision-making processes within a democratic system.
Provisions on human rights education have been incorporated into many international instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 (art. 26); the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966 (art. 13) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 (art. 29). The Preamble to the Universal Declaration (UDHR), makes the first call for HRE, providing that "every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance". The CRC, places an obligation on the States Parties to integrate HRE to national curricula binding them to agree that education of children shall be directed to “the development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations” [Article 29(b)].
An essential element of HRE is “the promotion of social cohesion and intercultural dialogue and the valuing of diversity and equality, including gender equality; to this end, it is essential to develop knowledge, personal and social skills and understanding that reduce conflict, increase appreciation and understanding of the differences between faith and ethnic groups, build mutual respect for human dignity and shared values, encourage dialogue and promote non-violence in the resolution of problems and disputes”. Council of Europe, Charter on Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education, May, 11, 2010 In this respect, a project on Human Rights Education in the context of a multicultural state, as Cyprus has always been, becomes even more important. Especially when this project brings together Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot educators, as the “Children of Cyprus and Human Rights” project did.
An equally important element of HRE is the emphasis on dialogue, communication and participation. Adopting learner-centered methods and approaches, HRE, empowers children and provides them with the necessary skills, attitudes and values so they can assume/ claim their rights and act as independent agents capable of exercising their own choices.
In this presentation I will focus on the participation rights of the child and discuss the role of children in Cyprus in decision making. It will be divided into the following parts:
A. Participation Rights and CRR
B. Benefits from children participation
C. Children participation in decision making in Cyprus (in the family, at political and societal level, in school)
D. Initiatives of the Commissioner for Children’s Rights in promoting the participation rights of children.
A. Participation Rights and the CRC
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” CRC, Preamble . The conception of children as subjects of rights grands them a more equal role in their relationship with adults. Children are not, any more, considered to be, merely passive recipients of adult’s experience, simple consumers of adult’s opinions and ideas but active social agents, purposefully engaged in their surroundings from an early age. In this respect, 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.
The CRC does not mention a right to participation as such. However, there is a cluster of rights [Articles 12, 13, 14, 15 and 17] wherefrom the participation rights can be deduced. Furthermore, 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.
Article 12 of the CRC, being the core provision on participation rights, essentially provides that:
· children capable of forming their own views should be allowed to express those views freely in all matters affecting them
· those views should be given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child
· children shall, in particular, be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting them
Article 13; provides for the freedom of expression, including the right to seek and be provided with information.
Article 14; safeguards freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Article 15; provides for the right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly.
Article 17; provides for the right to reliable information from a variety of sources, including books, newspapers and magazines, television, radio and the Internet.
A. The benefits from children’s participation
Participation rights are fundamental rights that stand on their own but at the same time they are essential for the realization and the promotion of other rights of the child.
Participation contributes to child’s personal development
Participation is beneficial to the child’s personal development and self-fulfillment. By participating, children develop their skills, build competencies, 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 in democratic procedures. Through participation, children, are provided with opportunities to express themselves, to experience the respect for their own views and to learn to respect the views of others. In this way, they acquire the capacity and willingness to listen to others and, thus, start to understand the processes and value of democracy.
Participation promotes children 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 the adults of the services that impact on them.
In the family context
B. Children’s participation in decision making in Cyprus
The family has a crucial and central role to play in the child’s socialization. The values that parents espouse drive children to adopt certain attitudes and lead them to a particular lifestyle and a way of acting and behaving. The CRC recognizes the importance of the family as “the natural environment for the growth and well-being of … children”. It is in the context of the family that, children, at first, should be given the opportunity to exercise and fully enjoy their rights and become empowered to claim and protect their rights.
There is a widespread acceptance, in principle, that children are entitled to enjoyment of their rights to Protection and Provision, all their social and economic rights included - to education, to health care to an adequate standard of living for proper development, to play etc. In general, parents in Cyprus feel obliged to provide their children with a safe environment, to offer them a sense of security and, at the same time, to secure them whatever they need to develop physically and intellectually. Irrespective of the situation of a family and regardless of the ability of the parents to fully respond to their responsibilities, the principle that these rights are necessary is never questioned.
Regrettably, the same is not true when it comes to participation rights in the family context. The failure or, even, the refusal of many parents in Cyprus to recognize the legitimacy of their children’s contribution to decision-making is, to a great extent, related to a traditional and widely accepted misconception, a fear I would say, that the involvement of children in decision making leads to lack of respect for parents and disturbs the family; It threatens parental authority. I note with regret that, to a large extent, Cypriot families remain tied to the traditional model, which expects a child to be fully dependent on the parents, a passive recipient of their care and wishes.
This family model is openly questioned by CRC, which promotes a democratic family environment where children will be given the opportunity to exercise their right to be head. As stated in the General Comment No. 12 (2009), “a family where children can freely express their views and be taken seriously from an early age provides an important model for facilitating the involvement of the child in everyday matters and crucial decisions, thereby preparing the child to exercise her or his right to be heard in wider society”.
In the wider societal and political context
The reality within the family concerning participation of children in decision making is, in a way, a reflection of what happens within the societal and political context of Cyprus. Notwithstanding the fact that the Cypriot society is generally child- centered, it has not succeeded in securing full implementation of participation rights of children.
While there is a wider social consensus regarding the need for more effective provisions and services for children and for the development of child-friendly policies and infrastructures that will promote better protection and secure their development within a safe and clean environment, the same does not apply when it comes to the need for the creation of those conditions and institutions that will enable children to enjoy their fundamental right to citizenship and participate in decision making on issues in all matters affecting them, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child. These where the results of the research on the “Levels of awareness and views of the Cyprus society on children’s rights”, commissioned by the Cypriot Commissioner for Children’s Rights, in 2008.
Nevertheless, I would like to point out that, both at the level of the family as well as the wider societal and political context, it seems that substantial positive steps are taken. In this context I note with satisfaction the organization of the first Public Consultation for the New EU Strategy for Youth, where children were asked to participate; and many seminars and conferences on positive parenting being organized by many actors, including my Office.
Children’s Participation in School
Education has also an important role to play in the socialization process of children. The Committee on the Rights of the Child states that “the overall objective of education is to maximize the child’s ability and opportunity to participate fully and responsibly in a free society” (GC 1 ) and underlines that “the respect for right of the child to be heard is fundamental to the realization of the right to education” (GC 12). The modern pedagogical approaches based on the values enshrined in the CRC, are linked to a democratic school governance and participatory learning environment, aiming at a child-centered education that provides resources and possibilities for students to enjoy of their rights.
The legislative framework of the public educational system in Cyprus is, to a large extent, in harmony with the principles underlying the CRC. I note here that the general aim of education in Cyprus, as officially proclaimed be the Ministry of Education and Culture (1996), is the development of free and democratic citizens with a fully developed personality, mentally and morally. The New Educational Reform is officially declared to strive towards creating a “modern, democratic and human school” in which students can be shaped into active and democratic citizens. I welcome the of Education Minister’s public commitment that students’ views will be taken in to the account, in finalizing in the reform program.
Students Councils, School’s Councils, District Coordinating Student’s Committees (ΕΣΕΜ) and the Pancyprian Coordinating Student’s Committees (ΠΣΕΜ) enhance student’s participation in school and enlarge, the school’s democratic character. School regulations recognize the right of all the students to have an active participation in the school life and to have their voice heard in almost all the aspects of their everyday presence in school.
Despite the above, my “Visits to Schools Programme” has shown that there is much to be desired regarding the participation of children in the decision-making process. In essence, students’ participation is limited to matters of minor importance. It is for this reason, that I have included in my “Programme of Priorities for 2010”, the organization of a one-day seminar for Secondary School Head – Teachers, aiming at creating awareness on Children’s Rights, with special emphasis on the right to participation.
C. Initiatives of the Commissioner Children’s Rights in promoting the Participation Rights of Children
Promoting children’s participation has been a top priority for me from the moment I assumed the office of the Commissioner for Children’s Rights. Being the first Commissioner for children’s rights ever in Cyprus, my task is even heavier. My activities aim, on the one hand, at creating awareness on the importance of the legal obligation to secure children’s participation and, on the other, to monitor governmental and legislative action so to ensure that policies, decisions, practices and legislation are harmonized with the CRC. At the same time, 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.
The tools we use for the promoting children’s participation include:
- The organization of events – the annual event for 20th November involves children as creators and participants
- Commissioner’s Visits to Schools – exchange views and listen to children’s concerns, empower, listen to what them
- Website featuring a specific field of communication with children and the possibility to submit and collect their vies
- Effective interaction and cooperation with children’s organized bodies – Children Parliament, Pancyprian Coordinating Student’s Committee (PSCS)
- Competitions for children (poetry, poster)
- Children as members of panels to judge competitions, such a poetry, posters and theatrical play-writing
- Representation of children and their interest in court
The Youth Advisors Panel of the Commissioner - In February 2010 I established my Youth Advisors Panel of the Commissioner.
The panel consists of 30 boys and girls in equal numbers, age 13 -17, emanating from all districts of Cyprus and different social backgrounds included children who live in Care Homes or with foster families as also children immigrants or refugees.
The majority of the advisors come from organized groups of children who have established a steady communication and cooperation with the Commissioner. These groups are the Children´s Parliament and the Pancyprian Coordinating Student´s Committee (PCSC).
The role of the Youth Advisors Panel of the Commissioner is to share their opinions on matters related to children´s rights and affecting them with each other, to give their opinion to the Commissioner, to represent their peers and to communicate with equivalent bodies.
My Youth Advisory Panel is a member of ENYA (ENOC Network of Youth Advisors). Through the network’s forum, the advisors have opportunities to exchange views with children from 17 other European countries and form their own proposals on matters relating to children which they submit to the Children’s Commissioner for children. Two of my advisors, choosen by their peers, will accompany me to the Annual Meeting of ENOC in Strasburg next month, where they will meet with other members of ENYA and have a chance to interact with the European Commissioners for Children’s Rights.
Children have traditionally been excluded from decision-making processes around the world. Although in theory, children are entitled to participation, there is still significant resistance to the implementation of these rights.
Resistance to children participation is related to traditional conceptions and prevailing attitudes towards children, adults’ refusal to share power with children and also adults’ failure to recognize children as competent social actors capable of making informed decisions. Sometimes, even when adults are positive and willing to promote children’s participation, participation fails due to lack of previous experience and appropriate knowledge by adults and children.
Much is required to be done, if we are to ensure in practice the full implementation of children’s rights and, particularly, participation rights. Genuine participation requires the creation of formal structures in all institutions dealing with or rendering services to children and, above of all, the creation of a participative climate. To achieve this, adults working with children must be educated and motivated to assist children in developing their participation competencies and, at the same time, to empower them so they can claim and exercise all their rights, including participation rights. I’m confident that the project “Children of Cyprus and Human Rights” is, yet another small step, of the civil society of Cyprus to this direction.
Commissioner´s speech for participation.pdf
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