Child participation is defined as an ongoing process of children‘s expression and active involvement in decision - making at different levels in matters that concern them. It requires information-sharing and dialogue between children and adults, based on mutual respect and full consideration of children‘s views in the light of their age and maturity.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989, introduced the right of all children to be heard and to be taken seriously. It acknowledged that children are social actors in their own right and are entitled to be actively involved in matters that affect their lives. The provision, outlined in Article 12 of the Convention, states that:
Right to participation as outlined in Article 12 of the UNCRC is closely linked to freedom of expression. It is also related to fulfilling the right to information, a key pre-requisite for children's participation to be relevant and meaningful. It is in fact essential that children be provided with the necessary information about options that exist and the consequences of such options so that they can make informed and free decisions. Providing information enables children to gain skills, confidence and maturity in expressing views and influencing decisions. Child participation requires space and time in which children can be heard. This poses a profound challenge to the traditional attitudes towards children, which tend to deny them any meaningful opportunities to be heard – for example, in the courts, in school, in the family or in public policy - making. In many societies, it is particularly difficult for girls to express their views. It is necessary to create safe ̳spaces‘ for both girls and boys where they are afforded the time, encouragement and support to enable them to develop and express their views.
With the expression of the child‘s views comes the responsibility for adults to listen and learn from them, to understand and consider the child‘s point of view and re-examine adults‘ own opinions and attitudes, be willing to change them and to envisage solutions which address children‘s ideas. For adults, as well as for children, participation is a challenging learning process and cannot be reduced to a simple formality.
Participation cannot be genuine if children have no opportunity to understand the consequences and the impact of their opinions — such non - genuine 'participation' often merely disguises what is actually the manipulation of children, or tokenism. The key to genuine participation is ensuring respect for children's views. In addition to facilitating and supporting activities to foster child participation, it is important to consider how to ensure follow-up of children's recommendations and concerns.
Children possess knowledge and opinions about their lives and experiences that may differ from those ascribed to them by adults. However, on too many occasions they are not consulted. Adults often assume that they know what children are thinking and feeling and so do not ask for their input when making decisions about matters that concern them. Adults need to listen to children in order to claim to speak on their behalf. If not, the decisions they make for children may have negative rather than positive consequences.
When participation is done properly and children are effectively engaged, they develop new skills, increase their confidence and knowledge and see that their views are valued and respected. Adults learn both as individuals and in organizations that working in collaboration with children brings a fresh perspective to their work as well as greater credibility and potentially, better outcomes.
One of the best examples of the children‘s participation in a CCI is the setting up of children‘s committees. As per rule 40 of the JJ Model Rules 2016, Person-in-charge of every institution for children shall facilitate the setting up of children‘s committees for different age groups of children, that is in the age group of 6 to 10 years, 11 to 15 years and 16 to 18 years and these children‘s committees shall be constituted solely by children.
Such children‘s committee shall be encouraged to participate in following activities:
The Person-in-charge shall ensure that the children‘s committees meet every month and maintain a register for recording their activities and proceedings and place it before the Management Committee in their monthly meetings. The Person-in-charge shall ensure that the children‘s committees are provided with essential support and materials including stationary, space and guidance for effective functioning. The Person-in-charge may, as far as feasible, seek assistance from local voluntary organisations or child participation experts for the setting up and functioning of the children‘s committees.
Every institutional care facility has its own set of objectives & guidelines for care to be provided to children during their period of stay in a particular institution. Institutions are closed settings which provide a set of services for the care, protection and development of children. There are rules of the institution which children have to abide by. Yet, there are a number of ways that children both individually as well as in groups can actively participate in decisions towards their own individual development as well as to make the services provided by the institution more effective and beneficial.
Observation Homes, Special Homes and Places of safety are institutional care settings in which children alleged to be or found to be in conflict with law are sent for care, reformation and rehabilitation. Such institutions are challenging settings to work in. The young people in these institutions are often seriously troubled, have behavioural problems and many times have been neglected and abused. Recognizing these children as young people capable of making decisions for themselves, as well as contributors and partners of the institution, would contribute to their self - esteem and self-concept, nurture leadership among them, help them learn problem solving, conflict resolution, decision making, make efforts towards their rehabilitation more effective and overall would contribute to a more harmonious and open environment within the institution.
Making space for children to meaningfully participate, in child care institutions for children in conflict with law would fulfill the principles and objectives of the juvenile justice legislation. Systematization of children‘s participation in CCI would require investment in capacity building of care - givers and orientation of children in the institutions.
Approach and Beliefs that care-givers / staff / administration must imbibe to facilitate meaningful participation of children in conflict with law in child care institutions:
Meaningful children‘s participation in a child care institution, should be set on the fundamental principles of juvenile justice outlined in Section 3 (i - xvi) under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.
The care-givers must:
From the time a child enters the juvenile justice system, it is critical for him or her to understand what the purpose of the system, what its procedures are, what limitations and boundaries of institutional care are. Similarly, when a child is received in to an institution it is critical for him/her to understand the purpose of institutional care, the procedures of the institution, the rules and regulations he or she would need to abide by, what opportunities he/she should expect in terms of rehabilitation and reformation, while in institutional care.
The Superintendent/Person-in-charge/Receiving Officer shall at the time of reception explain all these aspects to the child. The child‘s own expectations of institutional care also must be heard. Care must be taken to present the child with realistic, factual and appropriate explanations because at times a child‘s idea of a residential care in a home and what the institution is capable of delivering is very different. Outcomes of discussions on setting expectations and boundaries should be documented and be taken into consideration during formulation of Individual Care Plans, Case Conferences, Case Reviews and Grievance Redressal.
Setting and managing expectations while working with children in groups is vital for achieving the objectives of the group and making the group interactions beneficial for children, staff and the functioning of the institution as a whole. The home staff may have to negotiate with children and come to a consensus, but it is important that everyone‘s views are taken into consideration and incorporated wherever appropriate. The home staff should set time aside to explain to children when their suggestions and concerns cannot be incorporated.
Ensuring children‘s participation in CCI will always remain a work in progress. Keeping it alive and active in spirit and practice will also require that it‘s monitoring and assessment would need to be built into all spaces of monitoring/evaluation in the CCI. Such spaces would include: