Child and Youth Participation – November 23 2020

The power of children as change makers

Every day, parents make decisions that affect the lives of their children, as they often regard themselves as knowing best what is good for them. Children, however, are experts on their own lives and want to be involved in discussions that affect them.

Fasika* is 13 years old and lives at the SOS Children’s Village Jimma, in Ethiopia. She is the Charity and Development wing minister in the children’s parliament. Her duty is to organise charity events and to mobilize children in families supported by SOS Children’s Villages to help vulnerable children in the community.

The sassy seventh grader says that she first experienced involvement in decision-making in the private space of her home - skills she has developed over the years.

Every week on Sunday, Fasika’s family of 10 children aged eight to 17 years, gather around the dinner table to discuss topics that the children have preselected. The topics range from education, behaviour change, morality and spirituality, how to scale up the sense of family, and the children’s participation level in every regard.

“Every child, no matter the age or gender, has a role to play toward the wellbeing of the family,” says Fasika. “It is important to participate in everyday activities to gain skills that are very helpful for future use, and to get into the habit of helping others. I joined my SOS family when I was a baby and I have learnt a lot along the way. I can cook and even bake comfortably without my mother’s help, wash clothes and clean the house; I am also able to set up a study schedule for myself. I have learnt to take responsibility”.

“Participation in the daily life of my family has boosted my self-esteem and helped me to confidently move from participating at a home level to the parliament, to speak on behalf of other children,” she adds.

Bizunesh Shiferaw, Fasika’s SOS mother says she has created an enabling environment for positive participation of children in her family, by encouraging a culture of choice, inclusion and respect for each child’s opinion. This practice has helped her children develop, to speak confidently at home, and in other settings like school and the community. They have become advocates of their own rights, and they are able to speak out confidently without hesitation.

“I have realized that it is important to appreciate the children’s performance and to listen to their views,” says SOS mother Shiferaw. “It increases their willingness to participate at home, which helps solve their problems easily because they are involved in finding the solutions. The involvement also builds their confidence to voice ideas and feelings freely, which fosters a sense of belonging and creates a golden opportunity to strengthen relationships between us. Knowing that I listen, encourages them to come to me at any time,” she says.

The adage, “Anything for us without us is not for us!” is plastered on walls at the SOS Children’s Village Jimma, as a reminder to the children, and the adults in their lives, that they are partners in decision-making. The children and young people are afforded the space and time to increasingly express their opinions at family, village and parliament levels. They advocate on issues that concern them through either drama, music or poetry. The children even invite government officials to attend their village advocacy events.

“We do not go for a single decision without involving the children,” says Ebisa Jaleta, the programme director at SOS Children’s Village Jimma. They have been planning for short, mid and long-term plans for the SOS village. The children and young people bring in new energy and perspective in what we do. They have been taking over the assignments. The most important about child participation is that they take ownership and negotiate decisions; when that happens, implementation becomes easy,” he says.

17 year old Tamar*, president of the youth parliament at the SOS Children’s Village Jimma, believes when children and young people are empowered and have an active voice, they contribute to shaping their own future, as well as the future of the communities they live in. “Children need to be given support so that they can be leaders of tomorrow. Besides, the young people also require to be shaped to enable them support their younger brothers and sisters. Investing in children and young people is resolving the problems of future generations,” says Tamar

Both the children and the youth parliament have a similar purpose; they create opportunity for the children and young people to speak out and stand up for their rights, by directly engaging with issues that affect them. All members, 13 years and below, are in the children’s parliament while those who are 14 years and above are in the youth parliament. The difference between the two parliaments is the depth of issues discussed and the maturity of the members.

“I have noticed that the older children are able to clearly articulate issues,” says Fasika. “My desire is to climb the ladder of participation as I grow older; and the more I acquire the necessary skills, I will be able to advocate on issues more. Some years ago, I thought that child participation had no significance but now I realize our voices need to be heard and responded to. This is to respect our rights. Without our voice, any work done for us is worthless.”

*Name changed to protect the privacy of the child.