Why is child participation around child labour so important for policy-making?

Working children themselves have been excluded from playing a significant role in national, regional and international policy debates around child work/ labour. The Time to Talk Campaign is trying to open a dialogue between working children and all other agencies and actors involved at all levels to realize the children’s right to participation. It functions as an inclusive platform for the variety of different views on children’s work, it does not position itself on one or the other side. Thus, it can help to create an inclusive platform for exchange. The following arguments underline why working children’s participation in the policy-debates around their situation is so important:

  • Recognizing and supporting children’s systematic participation in determining their own best interest in line with Art. 12 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child helps to ensure that policies and programs for working children are based on and responsive to empirical evidence about the effects of both children’s work and interventions in children’s work on their well-being and development. So far, the children are not being heard systematically in national and international debates about policies and programs. Moreover, they are not heard in definitions of “harm” and “exploitation”. The latter is highly relevant as the international legal architecture does not provide for a comprehensive definition of these terms.
  • Children are experts on their own lives and their perspective gives new insights for policy and programming options, especially when cultural aspects are to be considered. Moreover, children can not only appropriate their rights but rebuild them through their own experience. It is important to note that children have the right to participate in the decision about whether they themselves choose to work OR whether they themselves choose to not work but this does not allow one group of children to impose their view on other children. The mode of participation should allow children of all ages to express their views.
  • Evidence shows that harm has been done to children by some of the existing policies and programs and involving children in the design and roll-out of policy can help reduce harm.
  • Children’s participation and association enhances children’s protection. Through opportunities to speak up about harmful or unfair conditions in work settings, children are more able to negotiate and secure improved conditions. Through children’s associations, girls and boys have increased opportunities to access information, to learn about their rights, to analyze concerns affecting them, to support each other and to use their collective power to assert and secure their rights.
  • Participation is central to a process of building accountability and promoting good governance. Moreover, participation is key to empower children themselves to raise their voice and to claim their own rights.
  • According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, children are all human beings below the age of eighteen (Art. 1 UNCRC). Thus, the older ones among them are close to social adulthood and able to participate in a very differentiated way. These nuances of age groups have to be taken into account.