What is the right to participate?
The children’s right to participate refers to their right to participate in making decisions that concern them. This right is directly connected with the child’s psychological and moral development. The following rights are included in this category: the right to freely express their opinion on any matter that concerns them, the right to be consulted on every procedure that concerns them, the right to free speech, the right to complain about their fundamental rights not being respected, etc.
Those rights are guaranteed under Article 12 of The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), adopted in 1989. This article “recognizes children and young people as actors in their own lives and applies at all times throughout a child’s life.’’.
The Convention also states, in Article 1, that “a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier”. In the E.U. the term “child” is not defined in any official document or treaty, but the definition given by the U.N. is generally endorsed globally, including in the E.U. The European law grants different rights to children, according to age, in certain domains.
For example, Directive 94/33/EC on the protection of young people at work which regulates children’s access to official employment on the territory of the member states of E.U. and related conditions, also distinguishing between “young people” (generic term for all older people up to 18 years), “adolescents” (any young person between the ages of 15 and 18 who no longer subject to full-time compulsory schooling) and “children” (defined as young people who have not reached the age of 15, where official employment is, in most cases, prohibited by law).
At an European level, the European Union Strategy on the rights of the child was developed for children and with the help and involvement of children. Treating children as active social actors and agents of change is a important message of the EU Strategy on Children’s Rights (2021-2024). According to this principle, both the opinions and suggestions of the children were taken into account in the Strategy, over 10,000 children ( aged 11-17) were consulted, thus providing a historical example, being for the first time when children had the opportunity to directly influence international policies.
It is recognized that many countries have made progress in ensuring the conditions for the expression of children’s opinions, they have created legislative contexts and mechanisms through which children can assert themselves, it is also known that many children do not feel sufficiently involved in the decision-making process, in particular those who belong to a marginalized group.
But there are so many other ways which young people can use to participate, more complex than marching on the street or the presence at a round table. What lies at the base participation, is more than simply assisting standing or sitting at certain events, it’s about the fundamental principle of bringing change in order to solve existing problems.
One reason for low participation of young people and children in making decisions is the fact that they do not know that they can get involved and how they could do so.
In Romania, there are no specific concepts regarding the participation of young people. Although the Youth Strategy promotes public, civic and political participation, the concepts are not formally defined in a document, not even in the Youth Strategy. Citizens’ participation in decision-making is regulated in Romania by Law no. 52/2003 on decision-making transparency, offering two important regulations on participation, relevant for the participation of young people, since Law no. 52/2003 is the main public consultation tool used in Romania, including in the dialogue with young people. The first way young people can participate is by taking part in elections and choosing the candidate that they believe in. The minimum age for voting is 18 and coincides with the age when the young person is no longer considered underage and is established by the Constitution. By Art. 36 of the Constitution, the right to vote is guaranteed, but the obligation to vote is not mentioned anywhere. Unfortunately, voting participation among young people in Romania is generally lower than the participation of the elderly.
As a conclusion, there are many ways young people and children can participate, but the most accessible one is voting, and this method can lead to change, with the least of effort.
Mihnea Badea, Volunteer at Save the Children Romania