The Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children has put in place
a special internship program sponsored by the Department of
Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Five young Canadian
women worked for six months in five different host organizations
in Canada and abroad to conduct research on the implementation
of the UN Convention for the Rights of Children.
This executive summary shows the results of the research on the
implementation of Article 12 of the Convention. Article 12 says
that young people (18 years old and under) have the right to
express their opinions in all matters that affect them and that this
opinion should be taken into account.
The data for this research project have been collected through
phone interviews, in-person interviews, librazy research and the
distribution of a questionnaire. The collection of data was limited
by the strike at Canada Post and the teacher's strike in Ontario.
In addition, due to the short duration of the research project (6
months) the sample of people consulted was small and may not
be representative. Nevertheless, the data and analysis
presented reflect the perception of the different sources
consulted regarding the implementation of Article 12 of the UN
Many authors have already defined the concept of "youth
participation". Some of them have constructed ladders of
participation levels and have identified some essential conditions
which indicate real participation. Based on the works of these
authors, we can formulate a definition of youth participation: "A
youth who really participates plays an active role in the decision
making, he has real power, he is more than a `client', he is an
initiator, a leader. The decisions affecting him are taken `with'
him and not only for' him."
Federal legislation with regard to the participation of young
people in decision making which affects them is not abundant.
But what about federal policies? The different departments
contacted are aware of the fact that it is important to involve
youth in decision making which affects them, but only a few of
these departments are taldng action in this direction. In federal
policies, children are usually considered as beneficiaries.
However, Health Canada is a vezy active department which
sponsors and builds many youth participation projects, where
children can be initiators and decisions makers. Others
departments could follow their examples. Other departments
have also initiated similar projects but for the most part they
remain at the level of consultation. These initiatives generally
take the form of sporadic events such as conferences,
competitions or special projects.
At the provincial level, there are many articles, mainly deriving
from the youth protection laws and laws related to services of
assistance for children and the family. These articles ensure that
the child has a voice in the decision making process. However,
the texts of the law are not really clear, we could even say that
they are "cautious". They don't give real power to the child. The
law gives the adults the option of hearing or not hearing young
people, depending how they feel. For example, the law says: the
child can or should be heard in the decision making process, if
possible. The question is: Is this often possible?
The Quebec example that we have analysed with social workers,
lawyers and young people taken into care by the state under the
youth protection law shows that the opinions vary widely from
one to another. According to the lawyers, young people 10 years
of age and older always have the opportunity to give their
opinion. Social workers believe that young adolescents have an
important role in making the decisions that affect them and that
their ideas are always heard. However, they add that it is
sometimes difficult to consider these opinions in the final decision
because of the other components which must be evaluated and
taken into account, for example, the vulnerability of the child, the
parents' capacity and the capacity of the surrounding
environment to care for the child. Young people have the feeling
that they don't have any control over the decisions taken
regarding them, as Benoit says:
"One day a girl comes to your place (social worker), and you don't
even know her, and then, she starts to decide everything for you,
and then, you don't have anything to say because she, she can
do everything even if you and your parents don't agree!"
So, there is a real difference between what the law says and
what happens in reality. The government and legislators are not
the only ones able to provide young people with the opportunity
to give their opinions. A number of programs for young people
are initiatives of nongovernmental organizations and it seems
that in Canada, many of these organizations consider the
participation of children in decision making to be crucial and work
to integrate it into their structures. Many have a youth counsel, a
committee of representatives, representatives which attend the
executive meetings, or young leaders, etc. Each of the various
initiatives are original. Many provide the child with the
opportunity to participate actively in decision making. Young
participants in these kind of programs have positive comments.
They feel that they have an Important role in the decision making
process and in particular say that they learn a lot and acquire
interesting skills in experiences such as these. However, some of
the fact that they have no real power in the executive decisions.
"We participate to the decisions, we have our foot in the door
and it's a good start but I feel we have a long way to go until we
get to fuil participation"
-Member of the National Youth Council of the Boys and Girls Club
So, Canada has many good examples of projects within non-
governmental organizations involving youth in decision making.
Many other countries are also doing weli in this field. Various
projects involving young leaders and young people who take
action to improve the quality of life in their community are
successful across the world. For instance, in Mali, some children
meet as members of a Children's Parliament and they adopt
resolutions and communicate their ideas and understanding of
various issues to the decision makers.
Although not all adults are concerned with the issue of youth
participation in decision making, there are many who are and
who spend their energy to communicate their views to other
adults who are somewhat sceptical. The "Domino"effect is an old
theory which says that all it takes is an initiating action, even if it
is a small action (like a flick of your fingers) to make the first
object draw the others along with it like the motion of a wave.
So, are you ready to give the first flick?
Canadian Coalition for the Rights of the Child
Owner: Manon Saucier