"When I held a Children's Counsel in Jiading District, a child impressed me so much at a briefing that I couldn't believe the research report was made by him/her. The children there did refresh my understanding of children. I have come to realize that children's participation is so essential. Sometimes it's much better to hear children's voices rather than to make decisions only by our adults simply", said Zhu Ning, an intern of Shanghai Real Home Social Service Center.
Children's Counsel held by the Center
How children’s rights have developed with the help of international community
Children's rights have gained the attention of the international community. Regarding the status of implementation of laws and regulations related to children's rights, children's "right to participate" is increasingly becoming a focus of attention.
According to the “Convention on the Rights of the Child” proposed by the UN, children's rights can be classified into four categories, including survival rights, protection rights, development rights and participation rights.
Convention on the Rights of the Child
The 2003 Report on the State of the World's Minors clearly states that if a person is actively involved in social life during childhood, he or she can be equipped for self-development at an early age and can move confidently into adolescence. Participation empowers children, helps them develop debating, communicating, negotiating, prioritizing, and decision-making skills, raises and enhances self-esteem, and gives children a sense of self-efficacy.
Therefore, "children should be freely and voluntarily involved in expressing their views, making decisions or implementing actions to achieve their own and other children's interests and to ensure the realization and protection of their rights," just as defined by the Save the Children International Alliance. And meaningful child participation should be such that children's participation leads to desirable change.
Participation of children in diverse environment
Children's participation occurs in different contexts, but nowadays, community participation has gained increasing importance. "Children could go nowhere except for extracurricular courses before, but now after the government's ban on extracurricular classes for children, children even lost their last place to go. Children need spaces for their own", said Lu Jiawen, a manager of Shanghai Real Home Social Service Center, also one of the advocates of community participation for children in Shanghai. In addition, practices related to children's community participation are also active in different countries and regions worldwide.
Center is holding a program
Children's community participation in practice
On a global scale, there have long been attempts and explorations in children's participation. On November 20th, 1959, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the "Declaration of the Rights of the Child " Moving on to 1989, the UN adopted the "Convention on the Rights of the Child " on November 20th. To celebrate the adoption of the above two documents, November 20th has been observed as the "World Children's Day" since then. China also signed the "Convention on the Rights of the Child" in 1990 and began to fulfill its responsibilities to protect children's rights.
World Children’s Day poster
When it comes to China, the community participation practices of children in Guangzhou and Shanghai have also yielded good results.
In order to fulfill the goal of Children Friendly City, Guangzhou introduces the land spatial planning system and aims to form children-friendly spaces in every corner of the city. By constructing a library, children's activity center, waterfront park, and sidewalks, natural and abundant children's activity sites have been set up, forming a "1 + 12" children's park community.
Besides, a series of innovative children's participation activities such as Planning Salon, Children's Building City, and Youth Substation Design competition has been carried out to collect children's voices, which has helped children to build a sense of belonging.
Facade of fire Education Hall of Guangzhou Children's Park
Shanghai Real Home Social Service Center is one of the representative organizations advocating children's community participation in Shanghai.
The Center demonstrates an approach to children's community participation as below: First, discover problems in the community: what problems exist in the community that are unresolved yet? Second, identify community problems: how do parents/neighborhood workers view these problems? Last, participate in community practice: observe the issues and think about appropriate improvement suggestions.
Children at the Center doing panel discussion
To implement children's community participation, the Center has very in-depth cooperation with government departments. The Center's staff members may support many children's projects in Shanghai. The two have formed a mutual assistance relationship of taking advantage of each other's strengths to make up for their weaknesses. Many community participation programs initiated by the government employed the designs from the Center. Moreover, the Center offers training classes to other social organizations to hold children's community participation programs.
The challenges of children's participation in the community
Although active practices have been carried out on children's community participation in China and abroad, children's community participation still faces significant challenges.
Children's participation can be categorized into eight stages, as shown below. In the first stage, children stay in a position where parents speak on behalf of them. In the second stage, adults listen to children's perspectives without considering them. As the stage goes up, children's participation is more realized. However, Chinese overall children's community participation is approximately equal to the third stage or even lower.
Eight stages of children community participation
Lu gave us some insights into the challenges the Center is confronted with.
The greatest challenge the Center faces is funding. Because the national policy has just been promulgated, the corresponding budget has not been released. Besides, the fund-raising capacity of the Center in terms of children participation is limited due to its nature. Children's participation is under no circumstances urgent, so it does not enjoy the same high priority as helping diseases and disabilities, making it difficult to raise funds from society.
Another problem is that parents and society have not yet been prepared to change their minds. Just like Lu said: "Parents are more willing to spend 5000 yuan to sign up for extracurricular speech training courses, even when children may develop their speech skills better during our community participation program. They are wondering why they have to pay for 'public welfare activities."
The Future of Children's Community Participation
“In most cases, children are silent and have difficulty developing an independent voice even when allowed to speak; even when given the opportunity to express themselves, it is usually readily apparent that adults are controlling and influencing them; and even when allowed to participate, it is difficult to do so without being led by adults.” One scholar expressed her concerns about children's community participation.
The ideal state of children's participation can be achieved by raising children's participation consciousness and cultivating their ability, in addition to adjusting adults' and society's attitudes towards children's participation rights.
The right to participate is given by law to all children with independent abilities. "For children, they have a sense of participation, but they need guidance. The problem is our parents and neighborhood workers often lack this awareness", said Zhu. Therefore, to protect children's right to participate, children must understand their rights and cultivate their sense and ability to participate.
What's more, adults and society should open their minds, welcoming children's participation.
First, children are capable of expressing their views. It should be encouraged to give appropriate consideration to children's opinions according to their age and maturity.
Second, children's opinions and their willingness to express their views are worth respecting.
Third, parents, teachers, policymakers, and so on should strive to create a safe environment for children's participation, encourage and support children to express their opinions freely, and let children learn and dare to take essential responsibilities in the process of participation.
Zhu said there were so many occasions when those children left a deep impression on her, but this one was so touching: "I asked him (her): 'what do you think children's participation is?' And he (she) said:' it is that adults can sit down and listen to what we are thinking and what we are saying.'"
A child at the Center expressing his opinion about littering
 曾凡林,马晓琴,周淼. 青少年视野中的儿童参与状况调查[J].青少年犯罪问题,2006,05:25-30+21.
 马晓琴,曾凡林,陈建军. 儿童参与权和童年社会学[J].当代青年研究,2006,11:47-51.
 苑立新著. 儿童蓝皮书 2017中国儿童参与状况报告[M]. 北京：社会科学文献出版社, 2018.01.
菠萝树 菠萝树 https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/VVn9F5aIn_y1nQjdbpxUOQ