What does participation mean?

Participation means that children express their views and that they take part in decisions affecting their living environments. The child’s right to participation is an international legal right firmly established by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). According to child rights organizations and other experts, much more needs to be done in order to realize the child’s right to participation as stated in articles 12, 13, and 17 of the UN CRC. This is necessary to come closer to the overall goal of the Convention.

Participation of children in decision-making is important because it helps adults understand and respect the child’s view, and it helps the child learn to take responsibility for his or her decisions. However, that article 12 of the CRC states that “the views of the child [must be] given due weight” does not mean that the child’s will is absolute. It is the parents’ duty to include children in decision-making but also to protect them (see Maywald 2012: 105).

Various children studies that interviewed children in Germany – for instance the World Vision Children Studies and the LBS Children Barometer – show that there is a causality between the child’s feeling that he or she is taken seriously and the child’s well-being in general, and in particular in the family, the neighborhood, and the school. The more children feel that their views are taken into account, the higher their well-being – and vice versa.
What exactly does participation of children mean? The following chart will shed some light on this question.

Participation of children does not always grow by itself. It must be nurtured with so-called energy, i.e. the actions of adults. If one of the three aspects of children’s development is nurtured, it will influence other aspects as well – unless adults prevent the flow of energy from one part to another. This may happen if adults
  • do not accept the competence of children “You are not capable of doing this!” 
  • do not accept the autonomy of children “You are too young to do that!” 
  • help children although they can do it by themselves “Wait, I’ll do it for you!”
(Roeder, Carsten. Beteiligung Jugendlicher durch Aktionen, Verantwortungsübertragung und Kompetenzerwerb, in: Partizipation Jugendlicher auf lokaler Ebene, 2010.)