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Posts Tagged ‘adolescent’

At the November 8th Technology Salon in New York City, we looked at the role of ICTs in communication for development (C4D) initiatives with marginalized adolescent girls. Lead discussants Kerida McDonald and Katarzyna Pawelczyk discussed recent UNICEF reports related to the topic, and John Zoltner spoke about FHI360’s C4D work in practice.

To begin, it was pointed out that C4D is not donor communications or marketing. It is the use of communication approaches and methodologies to achieve influence at various levels —  e.g., family, institutional and policy —  to change behavior and social norms. C4D is one approach that is being used to address the root causes of gender inequality and exclusion.

Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 7.24.48 AMAs the UNICEF report on ICTs and C4D* notes, girls may face a number of situations that contribute to and/or are caused by their marginalization: early pregnancy, female genital cutting, early marriage, high rates of HIV/AIDS, low levels of education, lack of control over resources. ICTs alone cannot resolve these, because there is a deep and broad set of root causes. However, ICTs can be integrated systematically into the set of C4D tools and approaches that contribute to positive change.

Issues like bandwidth, censorship and electricity need to be considered when integrating ICTs into C4D work, and approaches that fit the context need to be developed. Practitioners should use tools that are in the hands of girls and their communities now, yet be aware of advances in access and new technologies, as these change rapidly.

Key points:

Interactivity is more empowering than one-way messaging:  Many of the ICT solutions being promoted today focus on sending messages out via mobile phones. However C4D approaches aim for interactivity and multi-channel, multi-directional communication, which has proven more empowering.

Content: Traditional media normally goes through a rigorous editorial process and it is possible to infuse it with a gender balance. Social media does not have the same type of filters, and it can easily be used to reinforce stereotypes about girls. This is something to watch and be aware of.

Purpose: It’s common with ICT-related approaches to start with the technology rather than starting with the goals. As one Salon participant asked “What are the results we want to see for ourselves? What are the results that girls want to see? What are the root causes of discrimination and how are we trying to address them? What does success look like for girls? For organizations? Is there a role for ICTs in helping achieve success? If so, what is it?” These questions need to be the starting point, rather than the technology.

Participation: One Salon participant mentioned a 2-year project that is working together with girls to define their needs and their vision of success. The process is one co-design, and it is aimed at understanding what girls want. Many girls expressed a feeling of isolation and desire for connection, and so the project is looking at how ICTs can help them connect. As the process developed, the diversity of needs became very clear and plans have changed dramatically based on input from a range of girls from different contexts. Implementors need to be prepared to change, adapt and respond to what girls say they want and to local realities.

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Screen Shot 2013-11-23 at 10.41.22 PMA second study commissioned by UNICEF explores how young people use social media. The researchers encountered some challenges in terms of a strong gender approach for the study. Though a gender lens was used for analysis, there is little available data disaggregated by sex. The study does not focus on the most marginalized, because it looks at the use of social media, which normally requires a data connection or Internet access, which the most marginalized youth usually do not have.

The authors of the report found that youth most commonly used the Internet and social media for socializing and communicating with friends. Youth connected less often for schoolwork. One reason for this may be that in the countries/contexts where the research took place, there is no real integration of ICTs into the school system. It was emphasized that the  findings in the report are not comparable or nationally representative, and blanket statements such as “this means x for the whole developing world” should be avoided.

Key points:

Self-reporting biases. Boys tend to have higher levels of confidence and self-report greater ICT proficiency than girls do. This may skew results and make it seem that boys have higher skill levels.

Do girls really have less access? We often hear that girls have less access than boys. The evidence gathered for this particular report found that “yes and no.” In some places, when researchers asked “Do you have access to a mobile,” there was not a huge difference between urban and rural or between boys and girls. When they dug deeper, however, it became more complex. In the case of Zambia, access and ownership were similar for boys and girls, but fewer girls were connecting at all to the Internet as compared to boys. Understanding connectivity and use was quite complicated.

What are girls vs. boys doing online? This is an important factor when thinking about what solutions are applicable to which situation(s). Differences came up here in the study. In Argentina, girls were doing certain activities more frequently, such as chatting and looking for information, but they were not gaming. In Zambia, girls were doing some things less often than boys; for example, fewer girls than boys were looking for health information, although the number was still significant. A notable finding was that both girls and boys were accessing general health information more often than they were accessing sensitive information, such as sexual health or mental health.

What are the risks in the online world? A qualitative portion of the study in Kenya used focus groups with girls and boys, and asked about their uses of social media and experience of risk. Many out-of-school girls aged 15-17 reported that they used social media as a way to meet a potential partner to help them out of their financial situation. They reported riskier behavior, contact with older men, and relationships more often than girls who were in school. Girls in general were more likely to report unpleasant online encounters than boys, for example, request for self-exposure photos.

Hiding social media use. Most of the young people that researchers spoke with in Kenya were hiding social media use from their parents, who disapproved of it. This is an important point to note in C4D efforts that plan on using social media, and program designers will want to take parental attitudes about different media and communication channels into consideration as they design C4D programs.

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When implementing programs, it is noteworthy how boys and girls tend to use ICT and media tools. Gender issues often manifest themselves right away. “The boys grab the cameras, the boys sit down first at the computers.” If practitioners don’t create special rules and a safe space for girls to participate, girls may be marginalized. In practical ICT and media work, it’s common for boys and girls to take on certain roles. “Some girls like to go on camera, but more often they tend to facilitate what is being done rather than star in it.” The gender gap in ICT access and use, where it exists, is a reflection of the power gaps of society in general.

In the most rural areas, even when people have access, they usually don’t have the resources and skills to use ICTs.  Very simple challenges can affect girls’ ability to participate in projects, for example, oftentimes a project will hold training at times when it’s difficult for girls to attend. Unless someone systematically goes through and applies a gender lens to a program, organizations often don’t notice the challenges girls may face in participating. It’s not enough to do gender training or measure gender once a year; gendered approaches needs to be built into program design.

Long-terms interventions are needed if the goal is to emancipate girls, help them learn better, graduate, postpone pregnancy, and get a job. This cannot be done in a year with a simple project that has only one focus, because girls are dealing with education, healthcare, and a whole series of very entrenched social issues. What’s needed is to follow a cohort of girls and to provide information and support across all these sectors over the long-term.

Key points:

Engaging boys and men: Negative reactions from men are a concern if and when girls and women start to feel more empowered or to access resources. For example, some mobile money and cash transfer programs direct funds to girls and women, and some studies have found that violence against women increases when women start to have more money and more freedom. Another study, however, of a small-scale effort that provides unconditional cash transfers to girls ages 18-19 in rural Kenya, is demonstrating just the opposite: girls have been able to say where money is spent and the gender dynamics have improved. This raises the question of whether program methodologies need to be oriented towards engaging boys and men and involving them in changing gender dynamics, and whether engaging boys and men can help avoid an increase in violence. Working with boys to become “girl champions” was cited as a way to help to bring boys into the process as advocates and role models.

Girls as producers, not just consumers. ICTs are not only tools for sending content to girls. Some programs are working to help girls produce content and create digital stories in their own languages. Sometimes these stories are used to advocate to decision makers for change in favor of girls and their agendas. Digital stories are being used as part of research processes and to support monitoring, evaluation and accountability work through ‘real-time’ data.

ICTs and social accountability. Digital tools are helping young people address accountability issues and inform local and national development processes. In some cases, youth are able to use simple, narrow bandwidth tools to keep up to date on actions of government officials or to respond to surveys to voice their priorities. Online tools can also lead to offline, face-to-face engagement. One issue, however, is that in some countries, youth are able to establish communication with national government ministers (because there is national-level capacity and infrastructure) but at local level there is very little chance or capability for engagement with elected officials, who are unprepared to respond and engage with youth or via social media. Youth therefore tend to bypass local government and communicate with national government. There is a need for capacity building at local level and decentralized policies and practices so that response capacity is strengthened.

Do ICTs marginalize girls? Some Salon participants worried that as conversations and information increasingly move to a digital environment, ICTs are magnifying the information and communication divide and further marginalizing some girls. Others felt that the fact that we are able to reach the majority of the world’s population now is very significant, and the inability to reach absolutely everyone doesn’t mean we should stop using ICTs. For this very reason – because sharing of information is increasingly digital – we should continue working to get more girls online and strengthen their confidence and abilities to use ICTs.

Many thanks to UNICEF for hosting the Salon!

(Salons operate under Chatham House Rule, thus no attribution has been given in the above summary. Sign up here if you’d like to attend Salons in the future!)

*Disclosure: I co-authored this report with Keshet Bachan.

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Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 7.24.48 AMA paper that Keshet Bachan and I authored for Unicef is now available for your reading pleasure!

Here’s a  summary of what we talk about in the paper:

Social, cultural, economic and political traditions and systems that prevent girls, especially the most marginalized, from fully achieving their rights present a formidable challenge to development organizations. The integration of new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to the Communication for Development (C4D) toolbox offers an additional means for challenging unequal power relations and increasing participation of marginalized girls in social
transformation.

We examine ways that ICTs can strengthen C4D programming by:

  • enhancing girls’ connections, engagement and agency;
  • helping girls access knowledge; and
  • supporting improved governance and service delivery efforts.

We reflect and build on the views of adolescent girls from 13 developing countries who participated in a unique discussion for this paper, and we then provide recommendations to support the integration of ICTs in C4D work with marginalized adolescent girls, including:

  • Girls as active participants in program design. Practitioners should understand local context and ensure that programs use communication channels that are accessible to girls. This will often require multi-channel and multiple platform approaches that reach more marginalized girls who may not have access to or use of ICTs. Programs should be community driven, and real-time feedback from girls should be incorporated to adjust programs to their needs and preferences. Mentoring is a key component of programming with girls, and holistic programs designed together with girls tend towards being more successful.
  • Privacy and protection. Every program should conduct a thorough risk analysis of proposed approaches to ensure that girls are not placed at risk by participating, sharing and consuming information, or publicly holding others to account. Girls should also be supported to make their own informed choices about their online presence and use of ICT devices and platforms. A broader set of stakeholders should be engaged and influenced to help mitigate systemic and structural risks to girls.
  • Research and documentation. The evidence base for use of ICTs in C4D programming with marginalized adolescent girls is quite scarce. Better documentation would improve understanding of what programs are the most effective, and what the real added value of ICTs are in these efforts.
  • Capacity building. Because the integration of ICTs into C4D work is a relatively new area that lacks a consistent methodological framework, organizations should support a comprehensive training process for staff to cover areas such as program design, effective use of new ICT tools in combination with existing tools and methods, and close attention to privacy and risk mitigation.
  • Policy. Programs should use free and open source software. In addition, child protection policies, measures and guidelines should be updated to reflect changes in technology, platforms and information sharing.

The paper was first shared at the 12th Inter-Agency Roundtable on Communication for Development in November 2011. It was then reviewed and updated in August 2012, and released in August 2013 under the title “Integrating Information and Communication Technologies into Communication for Development Strategies to Support and Empower Marginalized Adolescent Girls.”

Download it here!

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The November 14, 2012, Technology Salon NYC focused on ways that ICTs can support work with children who migrate. Our lead discussants were:  Sarah Engebretsen and Kate Barker from Population Council, and Brian Root and Enrique Piracés from Human Rights Watch.

This post summarizes discussions that surfaced around the Population Council’s upcoming Girls on the Move report, which looks at adolescent girls’ (ages 10-19) internal and regional migration in ‘developing’ countries, including opportunity and risk. (In a second blog post I will cover Human Rights Watch’s points and resulting discussions.)

The Girls on the Move report (to be released in February 2013) will synthesize current evidence, incorporate results of specially commissioned research, illustrate experiences of migrant girls, provide examples of promising policies and programs, and offer concrete action-oriented recommendations.

1) How are migrant girls using ICTs?

While the report’s focus is not technology, the research team notes that there is some evidence showing that adolescent girls are using ICTs for:

  • Extending social networks. In China and Southeast Asia, migrant girls are building and accessing personal networks through mobiles and texting. This is especially pronounced among girls who work long hours in tedious jobs in factories, and who do not have much time with family and friends. Text messaging helps them maintain connections with existing social networks. It also gives them space for flirtation, which may not be something they can do in their former rural context because of cultural norms that look down on flirtatious behavior.
  • Finding new jobs. Both boys and girls use mobiles and text messaging for exchanging quick news about job openings. This suggests there could be an opening for program interventions that would connect to migrant children through texting, and that might supply information on community resources, for example, where to go in cases of threat or emergency—that might then propagate across migrant virtual networks.
  • Sending remittances. Based on research with adolescent girls and drawing from examples of adult migrants, it seems likely that a vast majority of migrant girls save money and send it to their families. Evidence on how girl migrants are using remittances is limited, but a survey conducted in Kenya found that 90% of adult migrants had sent money home to families in other parts of Kenya via mobile phone in the 30 days before the survey. There is more research needed on adolescent girls’ remittance patterns. Research is also lacking on adolescent girls’ access to and use of mobile phones and on whether mobile phones are owned or borrowed from another person who is the handset owner. Remittances, however, as one participant pointed out, are obviously only sent by mobile in countries with functioning mobile money systems.
  • Keeping in touch with family back home. In Western Kenya, migrant brides who are very isolated placed great importance on mobiles to stay in touch with family and friends back home. Facebook is very popular in some countries for keeping in touch with families and friends back home. In Johannesburg and Somalia, for example, one participant said “Facebook is huge.” Migrating adolescent girls and domestic working girls in Burkina Faso, however, do not have Internet access at all, via mobiles or otherwise.

2) Areas where ICTs could support work on child protection and migration

  • Child Protection Systems There is a general global move towards developing child protection systems that work for different kinds of vulnerable children. These efforts are important in the transit phase and right upon arrival as these phases are particularly risky for children who migrate. ICTs can play a role in managing information that is part of these systems. Ways to connect community child protection systems into district and national systems need more investigation.
  • Reporting abuse and getting help One example of ways that ICTs are supporting child protection in India and several other countries is Child Help Lines. ChildLine India received almost 23 million calls as of March 2012, with 62% of callers between the ages of 11 and 18. The helplines provide vulnerable groups of children and youth with referrals to local services, and in the best cases they are public-private partnerships that link with national and state governments. Of note is that boys call in more often than girls, and this raises questions about girls’ access to phones to actually make a call to obtain support. It also points to the need for differentiated strategies to reach both boys and girls.

3) Technology and exclusion

  • Social exclusion and access is a specific challenge due to the pronounced social exclusion of many migrant girls, particularly those who are married or working in socially isolated jobs such as child domestic workers. Girls in these situations may not have any access to technology at all, including to mobile phones.  Girls and women especially tend to have less access than men; they are often not the owners of devices. There is a research gap here, as no one actually knows how many migrating adolescent girls access mobiles and how many can borrow a phone for use. It is not clear if girls have their own phones, or if they are using an employer’s or a friend’s phone or a public call box. This would be a key factor in terms of working with adolescent girls and understanding risk and designing programs.
  • Technology should build on – not be seen as a replacement for – social networks. Girls access to social capital is a huge underlying topic. There is normally a rupture in social networks when girls move. They become socially isolated and this puts them at great risk. Domestic girl workers leave home and become more vulnerable to exploitation —  they have no friends or family around them, and they may not be able to access communication technologies. For this reason it is critical to understand that technology cannot replace social networks. A social network is needed first, and then ICTs can allow girls to remain in touch with those in their network. It is very important to think about understanding and/or building social networks before pushing the idea of technology or incorporating technologies.

4) ICTs and potential risk to child migrants

  • SMS, anonymity and privacy. According to a study one participant was involved in, some children and youth report feeling that they can speak up more freely by SMS since they can text privately even in close quarters. Others noted that some organizations are incorporating online counseling services for similar reasons. A study in Nigeria is ongoing regarding this same topic, and in Southeast Asia it has been shown that girls often use text messages to flirt using an alternate identity.
  • Retaliation. Concerns were raised regarding the possibility for retaliation if a child reports abuse or uses a mobile for flirting and the phone is confiscated.  Practices of self-protection and message deleting are not very well implemented in most cases. A participant noted that some of the low-end phones in Tanzania and Kenya periodically delete outgoing messages and only keep 15 messages on the phone at a time. This can help somewhat, though it is not a feature that is particularly aimed at protection and privacy, rather, it is more a function of low memory space. Safer Mobile is one initiative that looks at risk and privacy; however, like most efforts looking at risk, it is focused on political conflict and human rights situations, not at privacy and protection for child migrants or other types of abuse reporting that children may be involved in.

5) Research gaps and challenges

  • Migration contexts. It was emphasized that migration during an emergency situation is very different from a voluntary migration, or seasonal migration. Work is being done around communication with disaster or emergency affected populations via the Communication with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) Network, but this theme does not seem to be one of widespread discussion among US-based NGOs and humanitarian organizations.
  • Migrants are not necessarily disadvantaged however a bias exists in that researchers tend to look for disadvantage or those who are disadvantaged. They often ask questions that are biased towards showing that migrants are disadvantaged, but this is not always the case. Sometimes migrating children are the most advantaged. In some contexts migrating requires family support and funds to migrate, and those with the least amount of resources may not be able to move. In some cases migrant children have a huge, strong family structure. In others, children are escaping early marriage, their parents’ passing away or other difficult situations.
  • Integrated information and data crossing. One issue with research around migrants is that most looks solely at migrants and does not cross migration with other information. Many girls migrate with the idea that they will be able to get an education, for example, but there is not a lot of information on whether migrating girls have more or less access to education. The literature tends to focus on girls in the worst situations. In addition, although there are 4 times as many internal migrants as there are international migrants, focus tends to be on international migration.

In a second post, I will cover Human Rights Watch’s work on using data visualization to advocate for the rights of immigrants in the US.

Many thanks to our lead discussants from the Population Council and to the Women’s Refugee Commission and the International Rescue Committee for hosting! The next Technology Salon NYC will be coming up in January 2013. Stay tuned for more information and if you’d like to receive notifications about future salons, sign up for the mailing list!

Also, if you have research or examples of how child and youth migrants are using ICTs before, during or after their journey, or information on how organizations are using ICTs to support the process, please let me know.

Related posts and resources:

How can ICTs support and protect children who migrate?

New communication tools and disaster affected communities

Empowering communities with technology tools to protect children

Children on the Move website

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If you happen to be in New York City and have a couple of hours to spare, come on by to this panel today from 12-2 at UNICEF’s Danny Kaye Center. I’ll be doing an overview of some research that Keshet Bachan and I worked on late last year for UNICEF.

There will be some fantastic examples from Tostan, Equal Access, New School and UNICEF on creative ways that new technologies can be used when working directly with marginalized adolescent girls. We’ll also discuss how ICTs and communication for development (C4D) can be used in broader outreach aimed at changing mindsets and behaviors to look more favorably on girls and their capacities and improve their access to new technologies.

Update:  Here’s an article and short video about the panel.

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Group work at a regional consultation

Children and adolescent’s participation in decisions that affect them is key. More and more, decision makers are realizing that they need to consult with children when they are making decisions about children, meaning that children have more opportunities to weigh in on issues that impact on their lives.

Not knowing how to manage a good participation process or not listening to past lessons learned, however, can make it difficult for children and adolescents to take advantage of opportunities offered them to input into these decisions.

Children’s rights to participate

A child is anyone under the age of 18.  According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC), in addition to survival, development and protection rights, children also have participation rights.

  • Children have rights to be listened to, to freely express their views on all matters that affect them, and to freedom of expression, thought, association and access to information.
  • Participation should promote the best interest of the child and enhance the personal development of each child.
  • All children have equal rights to participation without discrimination.
  • All children have the right to be protected from manipulation, violence, abuse and exploitation

from the “Minimum Standards for Children’s Participation 10th draft”, written by Helen Veitch,*drawing on Articles 2, 3, 12, 13, 17, 19, 34 and 36 in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

What are the principles of participation? (Summarized from the above document)

An ethical approach: transparency, honesty and accountability

Adults involved need to follow ethical and participatory practices and put children’s best interests first. Because there are power and status imbalances between adults and children.  An ethical approach is needed in order for children’s participation to be genuine and meaningful.

A child friendly environment

The atmosphere should be safe, welcoming and encouraging.  Because in order for children to feel comfortable participating they need to feel safe and supported.

Equality of opportunity

Space should be ensured for those groups of children who typically suffer discrimination and are often excluded from activities. Because children, like adults, are not a homogeneous group and participation should be open to all.

Participation promotes the safety and protection of children

Child protection policies and procedures are an essential part of participatory work with children. Because organisations have a duty of care to children with whom they work and everything should be done to minimize the risk to children of abuse and exploitation or other potentially negative consequences of their participation.

Child participation in national, regional and global consultations

Children’s right to participate is key. However in practice, a safe and open environment for child participation at national, regional and global events can be difficult to ensure. It requires resources as well as a great deal of preparation.

Over the past several years, I’ve participated in some disappointing events where:

  • lessons learned about effective child participation and child protection were ignored
  • those tasked with ensuring child participation and protection were powerless to influence event organizers to ensure quality and safe participation
  • those organizing the event or sending children to it simply had no idea that there are standards and protocols and plenty of lessons learned that they should have taken into consideration.

Minimum standards for child participation

For example, back in 2005, several organizations in East Asia and the Pacific* collaborated to produce minimum standards for child participation in national and regional consultation events. These were initially developed for the UN Study on Violence against Children.

They offer a comprehensive overview of how to manage child participation and can be used as a guide for other national, regional or global events where children participate.  They should be considered whenever organizing, hosting or participating in an event where children are being consulted or their participation is desired.

You can have the most amazing and wonderful children present and the very best intentions, but fall very short of your goals of quality child participation because logistics and organization are poor and/or child participation and protection protocols are not followed.

What often goes wrong?

Child participation holds tremendous value, but when it’s not properly facilitated or supported; results can be negative on many levels, including:

  • Children are tokenized or used
  • Poor organization gets in the way of participation
  • Important opportunities are missed
  • Children become frustrated
  • Children are put at risk
  • Money and time are wasted

Oh, the things I’ve seen…

Mistakes those new to organizing events or supporting child participation in events often make:

  • Having singing and dancing in traditional costumes be the main role for children
  • Setting up totally new groups to participate in an event rather than working with existing groups
  • Not understanding the concept of ‘representativity’ and not ensuring democratic and fair selection processes of those children who participate
  • Not realizing (for global events) that the visa application process takes a very long time, and requires visa invitation letters and appointments in advance
  • Forgetting to get children their required vaccines
  • Not realizing that children may not have birth certificates or passports, meaning the visa process takes even longer
  • Not preparing children well for visa interviews, including the possibility that their visa request will be denied
  • Not allocating time and budget for travel necessary to obtain visas, permission from parents who do not live with the child (child trafficking laws often require this now) and other documentation
  • Not obtaining permission slips, medical histories, media releases from parents and/or not obtaining travel insurance for children
  • Not getting the above materials translated into a language parents can understand
  • Not having child protection policies in place and adhering to them
  • Not doing background checks on people who will be working with children
  • Thinking it’s OK to send children overseas without a chaperone, not budgeting for chaperones
  • Forgetting that not all children speak a major language like English, Spanish, Portuguese or French and will require translation of all materials before the event as well as constant translation during the event, and support following the event if they will continue to participate in event follow up

Children's responses on what they feared at an event.

Mistakes that even experienced child participation facilitators make:

  • Influencing too much on what children will say
  • Using children to promote the sponsoring organization or INGO’s agenda
  • Having children represent an NGO or INGO rather than representing themselves, their own groups or their communities
  • Having children wear NGO/ INGO t-shirts, caps and other branded items
  • Asking children from some countries (usually those from countries deemed ‘exotic’) to bring traditional costumes and share their culture, but not asking the same from other countries
  • Creating/building up ‘professional’ child participants and creating child star speakers
  • Relying on the same children all the time to represent because they have passports or visas or prior experience
  • Only bringing children who speak a major language or live in the capital to events
  • During sessions, not organizing group work in ways that facilitate communication across different languages
  • Sending any adult as a chaperone, rather than sending the best or the right adult as a chaperone
  • Not planning ahead on how children will be supported when they get back home to continue inputting into global networks and processes
  • Not ensuring a space for children to share their experiences with home offices and groups
  • Making children work long hours to fit everything in
  • Not giving children pocket money so that those with less means can also purchase small things for themselves or for family members
  • Housing children in fancy hotels with fancy food that they may not be used to; (not cooking enough good quality rice at lunch and dinner!)
  • Not realizing children may need to be shown how to use things like hotel showers, air conditioning, toilets
  • Not realizing that children may not want to sleep alone in a room
  • Not providing additional warm clothing for children if the conference climate is colder than their own
  • Not realizing that a trip overseas creates culture shock, children may feel lonely for their families
  • Not ensuring that children have the means to call home as soon as they arrive to an event and periodically during their stay
  • Not realizing that those facilitating child participation or working on child protection may not have the power to influence event organizers, especially if events are being organized in hierarchical ways with governments and high level committees involved
  • Not establishing at what point enough is enough, and children shouldn’t participate because conference organizers simply haven’t created favorable conditions, and children are put at risk or their participation will not be of good quality or have any real impact

Mistakes I’ve seen conference and event organizers repeat over and over:

  • Focusing on number of children participants rather than quality of participation
  • Not providing information with enough lead time for it to be translated and shared with children, or for good planning and selection processes to be done
  • Segregating children in parallel events where they don’t interact with adults
  • Not giving children space to lead sessions or engage with adults; offering them the last spot in the opening /closing speeches, and giving them a small percentage of the time that the adult speakers are given; or reducing children’s participation time because adults have gone over their allotted time
  • Patronizing children by clapping every time a child says something, or saying “oh that’s such a great idea!” not treating children respectfully as equals
  • Encouraging adults to get their photos taken with ‘exotic looking’ children in costumes
  • Not balancing the number of local participants and global participants
  • Not understanding that they need certain conditions to be available to fulfill child protection protocols (eg., children and adults need separate rooms; boys and girls as well as older/younger youth need to have separate rooms; the venue selection needs to have a measure of safety/security to prevent outsiders from taking advantage of any of the participating children, etc.)
  • Packing too many activities into the day and leaving children no time to rest
  • Not allowing any time for sight-seeing or recreation
  • Thinking all children have access to internet and computers to fill out registration forms, etc. and to participate in networks post conference
  • Not realizing that they need to listen to child participation and protection committees and adjust their ideas for their event so that children can effectively participate and are not put at risk
  • Thinking they can hire just anybody to manage child participation at the event
  • Not including a child participation/child protection point person in the organizing committee

So, what then?

I do honestly believe that children should participate and have a say in these issues, and that only by listening to children can decision-makers ensure that they are coming to the best decisions that benefit, resonate with, or have the best impact on children’s lives.

However unless proper organization, logistics, preparation and care are taken, these opportunities can be frustrating or a waste of an opportunity for everyone involved, and the validity of the efforts can easily be questioned.

Child participation needs to be taken seriously, not as an add-on or nice to have or cute to have. Unless and until regional and global events can ensure that this is happening, it might be a better investment to work with children at local and national levels.

Event organizers and child participation facilitators need to look at existing protocols, documentation, minimum standards and lessons learned and use them. Organizations shouldn’t be coming up with the same ‘lessons learned’ after every event and repeating the same mistakes at the next one. Surely we can do better than that.

What guidelines does your organization have? What mistakes have you made and learned from? What recommendations can you give? How can we get it right? Please share your thoughts in the comments section…

Download

Minimum Standards on Child Participation

Protocols and documents to use to help ensure good quality participation

*The following organizations participated on the steering committee that elaborated the Minimum Standards: UNICEF East Asia Pacific Regional Office, World Health Organisation, Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, ILO IPEC Asia and the Pacific, NGO Advisory Panel on the UN Study on Violence Against Children, Save the Children Alliance, Child Workers in Asia, ECPAT International, World Vision International APRO, Plan International, Terre des Hommes Germany, ASEAN Foundation.

Related posts on Wait… What?

Child protection, the media and youth media programs

Children and young people’s vision for a new Haiti

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