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"How can they make decisions for children’s benefit without even listening to the children themselves?!” This is a statement from one of our young leaders, Kate, 14, who recently joined World Vision UK in London for Changemakers campaign week.
Kate perfectly articulates a key problem that we are seeing in the UK Government’s policymaking – there is no commitment from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) to include child and youth consultation in the development of their child-focussed policies. How can we possibly create policies that work for the benefit of children and young people without first asking children and young people what it is that they are experiencing and what it is that they need?
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Changemakers, May 2023
In May, World Vision offices around the world came together to celebrate the continued advocacy and leadership of young people. The It Takes a World “Changemakers” May Global Moment highlighted the vital role children and young people play as agents of change in their own communities, whilst recognising their contribution and leadership in influencing changes in policies and practices at local, regional, and global levels.
In London we were joined by Dola, from Bangladesh, Alex and Mara from Romania, Lidia from Kenya, Kate from UK, and Mariana and Varvara from Ukraine (now living in UK). Throughout the campaign week, they all shared their experiences and solutions with key UK decision-makers, including the Chair of the International Development Committee, Members of Parliament, the Shadow Cabinet Minister for International Development, and representatives from the FCDO.
"We have come a long way for the UK government to see us and hear us," said Dola, 18, who is an advocate for ending child marriage in Bangladesh. "They have an important role on the global stage, and we need them to take concrete actions that make a difference to our lives, and the lives of children everywhere, and protect our futures.”
Our Changemakers developed their own Call to Action that was shared in the meetings and handed in at 10 Downing Street to Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak. This specifically focused on recommendations and demands, for what they believe the UK should do for children overseas to end violence, promote gender equality and disability inclusion, provide greater access to education and healthcare, and tackle the impact of climate change.
A key part of this Call to Action called on the UK Government to include child and youth consultation in the development of their child-focussed policies. These young leaders demanded that the UK Government ”empower and engage with children and young people” by:
- being accountable to children through creating a Children and Youth Advisory Council;
- advocating with other governments – like ours – to ensure laws, policies, and their implementation positively impacts children;
- engaging and funding girl-youth-led campaigns and groups, ensuring that the most marginalised children, including children with disabilities and ethnic minority children are fully supported.
Consulting with children is crucial
We know that the UK Government can be a powerful voice for children around the world if they choose to actively engage with young people – and take practical steps to imbed the voices of children in their policy making.
During their visit, these Changemakers demonstrated why it is so important for decision-makers to consult with children. Children are the best placed to accurately represent and communicate the issues that they themselves are experiencing and witnessing in their own contexts.
Decision-makers were able to hear first-hand experiences from young people from different countries, and to hear directly from them as to their current needs, the solutions they want to see in their own communities, and what steps they want the UK Government to take.
Having these in-person conversations enabled a back-and-forth dialogue where questions could be asked from both sides, and was a chance for young people to hold UK decision makers to account over their commitments to children. Our Changemakers demanded that UK decision-makers follow through with tangible actions – it is not enough to just listen.
As their Call to Action states: “Commitments are not enough; we need real concrete actions that make a difference to our lives, and the lives of children everywhere, and protect our futures.”
First hand accounts valuable to governments
Consulting with children grows the ability of governments to go beyond statistics to accurately understand how to improve child wellbeing as children grow into adulthood and to ensure the experiences of children are correctly understood by decision-makers. Speaking with children and young people offers immense value to governments as they can hear first-hand accounts, perspectives, and solutions from those who are the most impacted by crises and have the most to gain from strong policies that actually address their needs.
Children themselves have also reported that when decision-makers involve children it leads to an increase in life skills for those children involved. They identified a positive shift in their self-confidence, problem-solving abilities, negotiation tactics and leadership abilities. In countries where children are consulted, children’s relationships with other adults in the community also seemed to improve as a result of their involvement in decision-making spaces. Trust and respect were built between children and caregivers, among other adult stakeholders in the community, and among children themselves. The more frequently boys and girls were included in decision-making, the more they were perceived as capable, respected stakeholders and partners in other spaces.
The UK Government cannot afford to be complacent. If children are not heard and their experiences are not placed at the heart of the UK’s development policy, multiple crises such as Covid, conflict, and climate change will continue to disrupt the childhoods of billions of children and threaten their futures. This will create a bleak future of endless cycles of poverty and aid dependency.
Listening to children, and embedding their experiences, gives policymakers the chance to stop this cycle.
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Alongside our Changemakers, we will continue to call for the FCDO to create a Youth Advisory Council. If decision-makers and governments want their wisdom, it is up to decision-makers and governments to provide these spaces for young people to feed into decision-making processes. An Advisory Council is one way of providing the forum for regular child consultation.
As we run up to World Refugee Day, we are asking people to take a stand for children and sign their name today. Together, we're asking the UK Government to listen to children who have been forced the flee their home in Ukraine, East Africa, Syria, Afghanistan, and across the world.
We want the UK Government to set up a Youth Advisory Council in the FCDO to ensure the voices, needs, and hopes of the world’s children are taken seriously.
As our young leaders said outside Downing Street: “Do not speak and act for us, but partner with us.”