For more than 20 years that I have worked with children, I have noted that as a society, we have not fully grasped the importance of engaging children in decision-making.
This kind of engagement is tracked at different levels, right from household to the national level. Unknown to many is that a child’s involvement, or lack thereof, in decisions made, especially those concerning them, will have a lifetime of implications.
Many parents say they don’t care what the children feel so long as they make decisions for them; after all, they are minors. This is a wrong assumption.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which Uganda subscribes to, clearly stipulates the importance of involving children in decision-making.
The convention, which was ratified by Uganda in 1990, asserts that children and young people have the right to freely express their views and that there is an obligation to listen to children’s views and to facilitate their participation in all matters affecting them. Specifically, Article 12 of the CRC affirms the child’s right to be heard as a fundamental tenet for children’s participation.
In May 2016, the government of Uganda established an authority for children with the aim of addressing challenges that affect children. And in line with the CRC, the Children’s Authority was established to, among others, provide a structure and mechanism, which will ensure proper oversight coordination, monitoring, and evaluation of all policies and child rights-based programs relating to the survival, development, protection, and participation of the child.
One thing that I keep wondering about is why despite all the good plans, projects, and investments in children, by their parents, the government, and development partners, many children have failed to live up to their potential.
My friend told me a story about when he went with his nine-year-old daughter during the Christmas period to buy her a dress. While in the shop, he and the boutique attendant identified two dresses, which, to them, were the best.
When the girl was asked to choose one, to their dismay, the girl’s choice was different from what they had selected. The father bought the dress of the daughter’s choice but with disappointment since he felt that the dress did not have the embroidery he wanted. My friend told me that the daughter likes wearing that dress more than the other expensive dresses previously bought and that it has been a big lesson about giving his children the power to choose.
This is one example of how parents can involve children in making decisions about things that affect them. There are many ways this can be done.
As we try to tackle the most pertinent issues affecting children, we need to invite them to the discussion tables as key partners and do it in the right way.
There is a catchphrase these days “nothing for children without children.”
This needs to be well translated into our work and how parents respond to children’s needs. When children speak, we need to truly listen. We need to accord high importance to the contributions made by children when planning for them.
If we engage children in decision-making and consider their opinions, we will have more graduates choosing courses they are passionate about other than what their parents insist they study. As we see, many are quick to ditch these after graduation or even fail to get jobs because they were never truly interested in that profession.
There are children that have dropped out of school at an early age even when the family has resources, and others have decided to live on the streets when they have homes, all because their parents have not listened to them and their needs. So, they rebel by leaving home or dropping out of school.
Involving children in decision-making does not take away adults’ experience in parenting. The key principle in child participation is ensuring that all decisions made are in the best interest of the child. It increases their confidence and enhances their independence.
Decisions reached are more sustainable since all parties involved work towards the success of these decisions. Let’s stop treating children as mere recipients of our decisions.
The author is the programs manager, Partners for Children Worldwide.