Participation can be defined
as the involvement of people in decisions and issues affecting them.
Participation ensures that a wide range of skills, ideas, and knowledge is
brought on board and mostly linked to decision making. Participation by all
which is a core value in community development means that the hidden voices and
issues are heard, shared and brought out in the open for action geared towards
change. Participation by young people means ensuring that they have a voice and
the opportunity to have a positive impact on the ways decisions are made (Sapin
2009, 139). The level of participation depends on their confidence, knowledge,
and skills. It is increasingly becoming recognized that that age like race and
gender is a social division _ a significant factor in the allocation of power,
status, life chances, and social roles and so on. A person’s age will often be
a factor that plays a part in shaping his or her social location and the
responses of other social actors (Thompson 2011, 110.) All participation is not
equal— encouraging citizens to contribute knowledge about how a policy will
affect their community at the onset of a decision-making process is quite
different from allowing citizens to respond to policies already determined
(Simmons 2007, 6) According to Young as cited by Simmons, a policy or decision
can only be considered just when “it has been arrived at by a public which has
truly promoted the free expression of all needs and points of view. (Simmons
2007, 7)

Arguably, individuals
participate in different stages and different levels because decision-making is
a process. The levels at which they participate also determines their influence
in the final decisions made. Participation promotes dignity and enhances the
self-esteem of the people involved.  It
creates a sense of belonging. Provides new information, ideas, and
skills which promotes innovation and contributes to sound, effective and
efficient community solutions.

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4.1 Children’s participation

According to UNICEF 2003,
child participation must be authentic and meaningful. It must start with
children and young people themselves, on their own terms, within their own
realities and in pursuit of their own visions, dreams, hopes and concerns. Most
of all, authentic and meaningful child participation requires a radical shift
in adult thinking and behavior – from an exclusionary to inclusionary approach
to children and their capabilities (Percy-smith and Thomas 2010,33.)  UNICEF has also set up principles to ensure
children’s meaningful participation which include:

Children must understand what
the project or the process is about, what it is for and their role within it.

Power relations and decision
making structures must be transparent

Children should be involved
from the earliest possible stage of any initiative.

All children should be treated
with equal respect regardless of their age, situation, ethnicity, abilities or
other factors.

Ground rules should be
established with all the children at the beginning.

Participation should be
voluntary and children should be allowed to leave at any stage.

 Children are entitled to respect for their
views and experience.

(Lansdown 2001, 9 -10.)

 

In her article on ‘Children’s
participation in citizenship and government’, Austin (2010), states that
fostering children’s capacity to be active citizens includes supporting their
participation in political processes at local, national and international
levels. In so doing, children are able to identify their own concerns, find
potential solutions, and engage in the development of legislation and policies
that will affect their lives (Percy-Smith & Thomas, 2010. 245.)

The right to participation of
immigrant girls is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child;
they have to be seen as active social actors who have the right to be heard in
matters affecting them. Article 12 of the UNCRC is normally associated with
fair hearing, its function being to give the child a voice and modestly to
challenge the image of the child as a passive object of other people’s
decisions. It also states ‘that the views of the child (must be) given due
weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child (Smyth 2014, 98,
106.)

Children as active citizens
also act as agents of change and can influence change if the adults don’t
interfere with their participation. It is during their participation that they
are able to learn the process, develop leadership skills and become better
decision makers as adults. Their views are very important and valid and should
not be ignored. Immigrant children often have a conflict with their identity
but participation helps them develop their self-esteem and promotes their sense
of belonging 

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