Participation of Children and youth Redefined: Participation is a subject with a broad definition and multiple interpretation. In truth, children and youth have always participated in life: in the home, in school, in work, in communities, in wars. Sometimes voluntarily and heroically, sometimes forcibly and exploitatively. Every culture has a child and youth hero in its historical pantheon and fairy tales that tell of children and youth who have made a difference in their worlds.
What has happened is that childhood as a social construct has evolved with changing societies and changing values, and children and youth as a group are gradually coming into their own as people with rights and social actors. But because marginalization is still a fact of life for the vast majority of the world's children and youth, structured efforts to ensure their participation and protect them from exploitation have become essential.
Participation is frequently defined as "the process of sharing decisions which affect one's life and the life of the community in which one lives. It is the means by which democracy is built and it is a standard against which democracies should be measured." Acknowledged as a multifaceted phenomenon, participation may include a wide range of activities that differ in form and style when children and youth are at different ages: seeking information, expressing the desire to learn even at a very young age, forming views, expressing ideas; taking part in activities and processes; being informed and consulted in decision-making; initiating ideas, processes, proposals and projects; analysing situations and making choices; respecting others and being treated with dignity.
The goal for children and young people is not simply to increase their participation but to optimize their opportunities for meaningful participation. It is important to note, however, that no matter how attractive an idea child participation might seem, it is not a 'free good' as is most commonly assumed, nor does it necessarily bring more rationality to any project. It carries both direct and opportunity costs.
Nonetheless, the skills of participation must be learned and practiced in light of the medium and long-term costs to society of not facilitating participation: a world of young adults who do not know how to express themselves, negotiate differences, engage in constructive dialogue or assume responsibility for self, family, community and society. Most importantly, however, child and youth participation is a responsibility and an obligation of all those whose actions are guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Participation, in the context of the Convention, entails the act of encouraging and enabling children and young people to make their views known on the issues that affect them. Put into practice, participation involves adults listening to children and young people-to all their multiple and varied ways of communicating, ensuring their freedom to express themselves and taking their views into account when coming to decisions that affect them.
The principle that children and young people should be consulted about what affects them often meets with resistance from those who see it as undermining adult authority within the family and society. But listening to the opinions of children and young people does not mean simply endorsing their views. Rather, engaging them in dialogue and exchange allows them to learn constructive ways of influencing the world around them. The social give and take of participation encourages children and young people to assume increasing responsibilities as active, tolerant and democratic citizens in formation.