Sep 16

Child Participation

Thank you so much for being a part of the work we do! You are very important to us! You enable us to continue the work we do! I am very grateful for your support of the work we do and the children we serve, we honestly could not do this without your help. Your gift is what keeps us afloat and able to do the variety of work and depth of work we are able to achieve.

Today I want to talk about Child Participation, which is part of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. South Africa has ratified this convention and incorporated Child Participation into law through the Children’s Act of 2005.

So what?

Well imagine as a child, under the age of 18yrs, and you don’t have a voice about anything that happens to you at home, at school, or in the community where you live. For the past 9months KTD196 has been looking at Child Participation through the eyes of the children we work with specifically and the broader context in general.

Would it shock you to know that in the rural areas of Limpopo children are not considered capable of making the banalest of decisions? Culturally, giving children a voice is not acceptable, the adults experience perceived disrespect if a child has an alternative view, this is also reflected in how the community will view the adults if children start being involved in critical decision making. Children can make some minor decisions such as what clothes to wear, or buy however they do not generally have a say at any critical level whether in the family, at school, or in the community. Their voices are not heard!

Through the CRSA (Children’s Rights Situational Analysis) we have heard the hearts of the children, they are desperate for new relationships with the adults in their lives. The children identified that both at home and at school the adults dictate their lives, often harshly, and there is no platform for the children to raise their concerns in a safe manner.

Adults view children as incompetent to contribute effectively to any decision-making process.

Direct communication from adults is often very harsh, the children identified that they wanted parents to guide them, and express interest in their feelings, thoughts, and circumstances, but even those conversations were not happening. The children feel isolated, alone, and helpless. All of this contributes to high teenage pregnancy, increased mental health issues, suicide, depression, and high-risk-taking behaviour such as involvement with drugs, alcohol, and crime.

Because children are not considered often and actively isolated from major issues, for example, if there is a death of a parent, the children will find out about the death while they are asleep, and it is whispered into their ears over time. Imagine, you don’t have a chance to say goodbye, to spend time with the parent knowing they are going to pass, have special memories together, grieve, or attend the funeral as it is not part of the culture for a child.

When asking parents, teachers, and community leaders about creating opportunities for children to participate, and give them a voice it was reiterated that they are not capable of such high-level functioning and would only promote their own agendas or needs. By giving children a voice the adult’s view is that they are being weakened by the process. Any alternative view proposed by a child is seen as insurrection. The adults are concerned about how other adults would perceive their “weakness” by inviting comments from children. It is about maintaining control and power. This is an entrenched cultural value that is pervasive throughout society.

KTD196 achieves the goal of greater child participation in the operation of our individual small groups; larger groups and at the district and organizational level within KTD196, we use these opportunities to hear from the children what they would like to do in the coming year, what skills they would like to add to the program, what issues they are facing in the community, school, and home that they need help with, then as KTD196 we try and address these issues through your support.

We are going to develop a project within our program to start changing attitudes through education, awareness raising, and giving children the opportunities to participate to expand their understanding of the power they hold through the law. The children know their rights and responsibilities however we are going to help them realize the right to positive participation and be listened to. We also need to educate adults, especially parents, teachers, and Indunas (Village leaders) as to their roles as Duty Bearers to support the children and to create opportunities for the children to actively participate, this includes having Learner Representative Councils within the various school. Perhaps a junior village committee that has representation at the adult committee. And of course, working with the parents as our first port of call so that when we approach the other adults in the children’s lives we have their support to move this process forward. It’s a long-term investment in the future of the communities in which we work.

Currently, the government is focused on implementing Sustainable Development Goals throughout South Africa as the current policy, as most parents’ focus is on survival, putting food on the table, and surviving from one day to the next. Child Participation is not a priority but with support and encouragement, there is the potential to change the attitudes of all adults.

Imagine by giving the children a voice at the school level, we can start to see the end of violence experienced on the school grounds by bullies and teachers. We can hold adults accountable for their poor behaviour. Children can start to feel valued and worthy rather than defeated and victims. At the community level, we will start to have the communities become safe spaces for children rather than places where children are victimized, raped, abused, and murdered. Participation is a powerful tool. Understanding the issues confronting children when they are able to voice their opinions will go a long way in empowering them as young people who can add value to their community and not just be ignored by adults.

There are some case studies that I have read about the power of Child Participation which when effectively used has transformed whole communities, by creating safe spaces in villages, introducing neighbourhood watch groups that particularly protect children on the way to and from school, by reinforcing school rules and by creating child-friendly areas such as playgrounds, clinics, and safe houses within communities where children can run if they are feeling threatened. The Self Help Groups (SHGs) will also be a part of this process as we assist the mothers to gain the necessary information and skills to support their children in this process.

This is the journey we are on together. I hope you as are excited as I am. 

God bless you for the support you give us

You are awesome