Listening Large

 

Why do we listen?

As a fundamental principle of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as described in Article 12, the Right to Participation recognizes that children have the right to be involved in decision-making processes that may be relevant in their lives and to influence decisions taken about them in all circumstances and environments - in the family, in school or the community.

According to the Convention’s General Comment 12, the concept of participation emphasizes that including children should not be a momentary act, but the starting point for an intense exchange between children and adults on the development of policies, programmes and measures in all relevant contexts of children’s lives.
 

This right demands our otherwise adult-centric world to recognize and respect children’s evolving capacities and autonomy.

 

Why is it our core value?

In India the right to participation is particularly significant when you stop to consider the marginalization and invisibility of children. Within our deep-rooted patriarchal structures children’s rights are generally seen only within the context of the needs and rights of the adult members of the family or the community.Children are typically not seen as independent holders of their own rights, but rather as dependent, passive recipients of welfare – be it from the family or the state. Ironically, while we heap on children many adult responsibilities – supporting the family through child labour or being responsible for the care of the household and younger siblings – we don’t wish to credit them with the ability to understand their environment or seek their opinion on how they would like to change it!

 

It is vital for us to reconstruct our understanding of children by paying attention to the diversity of children’s actual circumstances, their agency and their subordination. The importance of the right to participation is that it recognizes the potential of children to contribute meaningfully to decision-making processes, and to participate as citizens and actors of change.

 

Participation to our mind is a key aspect of citizenship, and this is why we work to ensure that children become active participants in their local communities, be it socially, culturally or politically. Children’s participation has to be fostered within the family, the school, the neighbourhood and local community, as well as in mechanisms that shape State policy.

 

Child participation in action

It is powerful and practical to hear from children about their version of what is dangerous, challenging or difficult in their lives and often there are answers to be found here. Most often their reinterpretation of problems can lead us to new solutions – but only if their voices are heard in a deliberate manner with intention to act rather than as a token nod to some abstract notion of child participation.

 

All of our programming seeks to provide children with the opportunities to formulate their own opinions and ideas about their lives and the lives of their family and community; freely and safely express their opinions and choices; and find ways to take their voices and perspectives to relevant authorities who are tasked with enacting or implementing decisions, policies or laws that impact children.

 

In urban slum communities, boys and girls are encouraged to identify and articulate the problems - personal and public - they face in their neighbourhoods and find solutions through community projects that also galvanize other stakeholders in the community to action.The work of identifying, active planning, and participation in trying to make a change is powerful. We see how youth who were once passive or victims or non-actors in their communities are emboldened and empowered to act in their own and their community’s interest

 

What children say about the issues that concern them usually come from their personal experiences. Listening closely to what children say – be it about safety, protection, child marriage, substance abuse, police harassment – is what we use to prioritize our areas of intervention and work.


'You have to fight for your independence. Nobody will just give it to you. If you don't even try, then how will you get anything?'
-S, 17, Patna


'Now that I’ve grown up, I have to work. I don’t like it, but it's my responsibility. What else is there to do?'
-A, 12, Varanasi


'All the women got together and went to the police. At that point, I didn't think anything of it. Later, I realised: I used to be so afraid of the police and today, I am fearlessly talking to them.'
-R, 18, Mumbai





'I've seen people being knifed up there [at the dumping ground], bulldozers burying children. Everyday, it is a threat to life.'
-I, 14, Mumbai


'I felt that it was important to get children enrolled in school because they are sorting garbage now. They are not thinking about their future. I thought, when they grow up, they should not regret that they did not go to school, did not study.'
-P, 17, Bhopal