The Analytical Center expert Elena Zotova believes the best way to improve the quality of life of both children and people in general is through wider participation by children in decisions that affect their interests, ensuring transparency and creating standards for such participation.
The expert believes that the right to voice their opinion must be backed by the right to participate in the implementation of the decisions taken and that it is through such participation that they learn to be active citizens. “The foundation for this participation, just like the foundation for civil consciousness and viewing oneself as an individual who has rights and obligations is laid in the family,” Ms. Zotova says. “However, due to existing family traditions and the mentality of the parents children normally do not get to take part in sorting out day-to-day household issues because there is a deep seated belief in our society that the parents know best what their children need. Thus, we are seeing emergency of an extremely immature generation that has no interest in participating in the life of society, neighborhood, town or country. It is for this very reason that society has so far been unable to make participation the default option for all children and youths.”
According to the expert, there is a large body of research from around the world about participation of children in making decisions that affect their interests and the issue has been debated a lot for many years. In addition to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, most people participating in the debate recognize the right of children to express their views and be heard when decisions are being made that directly affect their interests. However, when it comes to listing specific situations in which a child can and should participate, a whole range of very diverse opinions exist. The most progressive viewpoint is that children and young people should have a say in the decision making process in the family, at school, in cultural and sporting organizations as well as in local and national governments, the UN and other international organizations. However, it is a widely known fact for which there is ample evidence in many countries, that in real life adults, whether they are parents, teachers, care takers or officials often never even bother to ask for any input from children when they are making decisions about “children’s issues”, let alone take the opinions of children into account.
The Child Friendly City global initiative launched by UNICEF and now being implemented in many countries across the world, including in a number of Russian cities, aims to change this situation. The initiative is based on the idea that the opinions of children are taken into account when urban policies are developed and children become active players determining key priorities of urban policy such as child safety, construction and equipment of playgrounds, etc. Experience has already been gained as a result of implementing the initiative.
Ms. Zotova explains that in the majority of cases participation of the youth in social life happens on the terms laid down by adults (organizers), even though there are no real obstacles to properly organizing the work of youth parliaments and children’s councils. Most youth parliaments found in Russian cities have been most effective. Thus in 2011-2012 youth parliaments gained some value experience in Izhevsk, Petrozavodsk, Moscow, Krasnodar and other cities across Russia, in which the opinions of the youth parliaments were really taken into account when urban policy decisions were made.