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Empowering Children’s Voices

I am sure it has been our collective experience that the best way (some insist, with adequate reason, probably the only way) to teach and bring up our children effectively is to involve them in the process - in other words, to empower them and their voices. In fact, The Children Act 1989 and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) both recognise the importance of listening to and involving children in decision-making processes. When we do so, we encourage them to take charge of their lives and futures. The confidence and the sense of belonging that’ll ensue will go a long way towards establishing them as the drivers of their ‘Growth’.

The best way to ensure the above is to form a partnership of parents at school (teachers) and parents at home. While at school, let’s involve the children in planning various class and school activities and put them in a position to drive them and to be accountable for them. Let’s do the same at home, with exercises and decision-making that involve social and family norms. In both situations, at school and at home, let’s allow them sufficient ‘free hand’ and not rush in to supervise. Let’s listen to them and their reasoning, let’s convey to them that their ‘voices’ matter. This will have a huge impact on how the children view themselves - and of course, how they view themselves is of such enormous significance!

Probably the single most differentiating factor between any two individuals is the way each one of them ‘thinks’. How a child ‘thinks’, as he grows up, will have a major effect on ‘what’ he grows up to be. Empowering children’s voices can be a wonderful tool in the process of making them think in positive and ‘humane’ ways. This will also enable them to make better, wiser choices as they grow up and go through their lives. Also, this will help them better understand different aspects of life and society and articulate their ideas and opinions more effectively.

A study of a Children’s Participation model might enhance the scope of our understanding of the empowerment of children’s voices. In 1992, based on his research focused on understanding the everyday lives of children and youth, Roger A. Hart published his work, Children’s Participation: From Tokenism to Citizenship under the aegis of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). In it he suggested a model that came to be known as ‘Roger Hart’s Ladder of Children’s Participation’. It’s a ladder with 8 rungs, and each of them signifies the following, in ascending order:

  • Manipulation

  • Decoration

  • Tokenism

  • Assigned but Informed

  • Consulted and Informed

  • Adult-Initiated, Shared Decisions with Children

  • Child Initiated and Directed

  • Child-Initiated, Shared Decisions with Elders.

Hart termed the bottom 3 rungs’ Non-Participation’ and the top 5 rungs ‘Degrees of Participation’. According to him, “Young people’s participation cannot be discussed without considering power relations and the struggle for equal rights. It is important that all young people have the opportunity to learn to participate in programmes which directly affect their lives. This is especially so for disadvantaged children, for through participation with others such children learn that to struggle against discrimination and repression and fight for their equal rights in solidarity with others is a fundamental democratic right. The highest possible degree of citizenship in my view is when we, children or adults, not only feel that we can initiate some change ourselves but when we also recognise that it is sometimes appropriate to also invite others to join us because of their own rights and because it affects them too, as fellow-citizens.

Truly, the importance of empowering our children’s voices cannot be overemphasised. After all, our future is alive in them..!

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