Children and young people must be empowered and enabled to meaningfully participate in public decision-making, and this is one of the objectives of the project "Together: Working in partnership with children and youth to enhance their rights in responses to crisis situations such as COVID-19 and other emergencies". The project is co-funded by the Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values programme of the European Union and is being implemented by SOS Children’s Villages in four countries: Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy and Spain.
In the Together project, children and young people have an active role in improving their capacity to meaningfully participate in public decision-making, advocating for participation opportunities, and raising awareness among others of their right to participate. In addition to Child and Youth Advisory Boards, each country within the project has two mentors aged 20-27 that deliver and support the training of children and young people, and who have shaped the training methodology and materials.
Giving children and young people the tools and opportunities to participate
Although all children and young people have the right to participate in decisions that affect them, even in times of crisis, this right is often overlooked and neglected by governments and public decision-makers. Kalina, 20, a music student in Sofia and one of the mentors in Bulgaria, believes another barrier to child and youth participation is that they are not aware of their right to do so. “I think they are not well prepared and they don’t know their rights. I don’t think that someone has said to them, ‘you have rights.’ I think no one has shown them that they can make a change,” she says.
As such, one of the key project activities is the development and rollout of peer-to-peer workshops for children aged 13-17, to inform them about their rights and build their capacity to participate in public decision-making. In the final workshop session, the children will meet with decision-makers and other professionals to share their messages about participation and how they would like to be involved in decision-making. The workshops will be delivered by pairs of peer trainers, who are young people aged 15-24 that are trained by the mentors.
Vica, 22, is a sociology student in Budapest and one of the mentors in Hungary who has been involved in the development of the training materials and is now preparing to train peer trainers. She highlights why it is important to work with both adults and children directly to make child participation active and meaningful. “You have to give children the tools and the information, but it’s up to the adults how they handle child participation and how they involve children, because they should be involved. Children know best what’s good for them, and what feels right for them,” she says.
In addition to having their rights upheld and their voices heard, it is also important to recognise the benefits that could occur for children and young people if they participated more in public decision-making. “There could be big changes, in their mind and in their behaviours. Because if they are aware of what they can do, they can do a lot to help society and themselves,” says Almas. “Adults sometimes don’t see our needs, so we have to be the ones to tell them.”
“It’s okay if you want to make a change”
Within the Together project, SOS Children’s Villages aims to train 40 young people as peer trainers, and for 425 children and young people to participate in the peer-to-peer workshops, but what do the mentors hope to achieve through the project?
“What I would want it to achieve is for the Hungarian youth who we are able to reach to be empowered in a way to know that yes, you can express your opinion,” says Vica.
Kalina agrees: “That’s my mission: to be able to encourage children to be more active, to believe in themselves, and to know it’s okay if you want to make a change. I think that’s inspiring, not just for kids, but for everyone, everywhere. Every kid has their own rights and all kids are equal. That’s an important thing that we all should learn and people in general need to respect.”
Find out more about the Together project and the other activities taking place.
The Together project is co-funded by the European Union. The views and opinions expressed within this article are however those of SOS Children’s Villages only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.