Can Children Transform Society? A five day’s journey through Children’s Participation

Published August 14, 2013 – by Alicia Fernández

Advocates have spent many years promoting children’s participation, but good practice remains fragmented. We need to create a community of practice to consolidate and share lessons about rights-based participation in children’s lives.

That was the thinking behind the first Annual International Conference on “Children as Actors for Transforming Society”, held last month in Caux, Switzerland. I joined the delegation from our Peruvian partner INFANT (Instituto de Formación de Niños y Adolescentes Trabajadores), which consisted of the director and project coordinator, and three incredible children: Flor de María, Ana Valeria and Franz, aged 14, 11 and 11 respectively.

Other delegations of adults and children aged from 4 to 17 came from France, Germany, United Kingdom, Nicaragua, Argentina, Peru, Lebanon, Cyprus, the Netherlands and Bulgaria. Children not only participated in the five-day conference, which was organised by Initiatives of Change in partnership with the Child to Child Trust, they also helped to organise some of the sessions.

The aim of the conference was to explore best practices and ideas towards promoting responsive, ethical and sustainable children’s participation. Among the ideas that most resonated with me were the need to increase recognition for people who work with children, thinking about education more in terms of cooperation than competition, challenging cultures of silence and improving media visibility for problems that affect children.

There were discussions around the childhood obesity pandemic, how to rebuild the trust of children who have been abused, and how schools should deal with childhood bereavement. Other sessions centred on how to ensure that services for children work in partnership with children, and the problem of adolescents being treated in mental health centres for adults.

I was especially struck by the presentation by Urzula Markowska from the University of Warsaw on post-conflict trauma among child soldiers. As she poignantly pointed out, “society will be guided in the future by adults who have never solved the traumas they experienced as children”.

One evening was devoted to presentations from children about their own experiences of participation. Flor, Ana and Franz got a standing ovation from an audience of over 100 people. As Franz told me later: “Alicia, we are now famous – people are asking for my autograph!”

I encourage you to explore the various presentations and discussions from the conference below…
Interviews in French