Does children’s participation in public decision-making lead to better services? More than 70% of people think so, and similar numbers feel that it helps children become more empowered, according to our Eurochild survey. So why do EU governments still not listen to the 166 million children who make up a full third of their population?
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which binds all EU member states, establishes the right for children to express their views on all matters that affect them. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has made clear that governments have a responsibility to ensure that those views are heard by the people making decisions, and taken seriously.
The EU recommends that Member States promote children’s participation in decision-making, including by reaching out to and supporting children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Listening to children, taking their views and ideas seriously and responding positively makes a difference to children and public services. It contributes to a culture of respect and reciprocity, and ultimately improves democratic engagement.
Usually decisions affecting children are taken by public decision-makers from behind their desks, without ever consulting someone below the age of 18. So it’s not surprising that often these decisions ignore the impact they will have on children. This is even more true for children in vulnerable situations, such as those living in poverty or with a disability and those from minority backgrounds.
“Nothing about us, without us”: this slogan expresses the attitude public decision-makers need to bear in mind when making policies that affect children.
There are some promising initiatives. In Scotland, representatives from the Children’s Parliament and Scottish Youth Parliament met with the full Scottish Cabinet, including the First Minister, to discuss a range of children’s rights issues. The children spoke about the importance of equal protection from violence and the need to increase the age of criminal responsibility.
The meeting resulted in a legal provision in the Children and Young People Act 2014, ensuring that Ministers take children’s views into account when making decisions. There are now annual meetings between ministers and children, and the cabinet agreed to raise the age of criminal responsibility. Cabinet members reported learning a lot from listening to children talk about their lived experiences.