1.4 What is child participation?

Participation is a process of being involved in decisions and actions that affect you. Children traditionally are denied this opportunity. However, this right to be heard and taken seriously is one of the fundamental values of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. Of course, children have always participated in many ways within societies – for example, at the community level, through play and art, and in their economic contribution to their families. In the context of children’s rights, however, the term participation is now very widely used as a short-hand to describe the process of children expressing their views and having them taken seriously.

Participation can be defined as an ongoing process of children’s expression and active involvement in decision-making at different levels in matters that concern them. It requires information-sharing and discussion between children and adults based on mutual respect, and requires that full consideration of their views is given, taking into account the child’s age and maturity.

(Lansdown, 2011, p. 3)

It is important to understand that this does not mean that children should always have their own way, or that adults can no longer make decisions on behalf of children. What it does mean is that children can and should be involved in those decisions and have their views taken seriously, even if they cannot always be complied with.

Children can form and express views from the earliest age, but the way they participate, and the range of decisions in which they are involved, will necessarily increase as they grow older and more able. Young children’s participation will be largely limited to issues relating to their immediate environment within the family, care facilities and their local community. However, as they grow older and their capacities evolve, they are entitled to be involved in issues that affect them in the immediate family, in their community, their country, and even at the international level.

Study note

For ease in reading the text, from hereon we will be referring to the UN Convention and the African Charter.

Activity 1.2: Role play demonstrating a lack of child participation

If you are studying in a group you could conduct this activity as a role play. There are four characters, so you will need to have at least four people for a role-play activity. Otherwise you can read it and then consider the two questions that follow.


A parent decides to take his or her daughter, aged 8, to the health clinic because they are worried that the child might have malaria. A health worker is available straight away.

Parent: Greets the health worker and explains that the child has a fever and headache.

Health worker: Examines the child silently and straight away prescribes medication without any discussion with the child. She also decides the child needs an injection and prepares to give the treatment.

Child: Sees the large needle and runs out crying to the reception area.

Receptionist: Asks what is the matter.

Child: Cries and says the doctor is going to give her an injection and she does not understand why. She is frightened.


  1. What do you think about this situation?
  2. What would you do differently to permit the child’s participation? Act it out again, this time taking account of the child’s right to be heard.

    Once you have acted it out again, note the points at the end of the session for Activity 1.2.

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1.3 Your own childhood experience

1.5 Four rights that promote children’s participation