Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes that children have a right to be heard. The application of this right has been broadly conceptualized as ‘participation’, although the term itself does not appear in the Convention. Of course, children have always participated in many ways within societies – for example, at the community level, through play and the arts, and in their economic contribution to their families.
In Armenia, Save the Children prioritizes child participation in issues concerning them and makes every effort to make their voices heard. Unfortunately, societal stereotypes that children’s opinions are irrelevant are still strong in Armenia. A report of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child states that children’s opinions are frequently disregarded in Armenia. This causes an indifference or discouragement in children and results in disempowered and unengaged youth rather than active citizens who strengthen their countries' democratization by their participation. Lack of opportunities to practice forming and voicing opinions reflects children's limited self-perceptions as rights' holders and underdeveloped participation abilities as well.
Save the Children’s Child Advisory Group came up with the idea of using Global Day of Citizen Action (GDCA) organized by Civicus World Alliance for Citizen Participation to voice the need for child participation in Armenia. The aim of GDCA is to encourage citizens to speak out about issues, organize themselves and take action. Organizers around the world create events centered on various issues which they find to be of particular importance in their communities. In Armenia, Save the Children organized GDCA Kids with the objective of providing the opportunity to children to speak up about the need of hearing children’s voices on family, community and policy levels. On 16 March 2015 Save the Children’s Child Advisory Group organized a series of campaign activities to speak up about the problem. A number of national organizations, including the Armenian Human Rights Defender’s office, UNICEF, Eurasia Partnership Foundation, other local civil society organizations and media made public statements in support of the initiative.
A series of initiatives were organized to promote public awareness about children’s right to participation, and children themselves took active part in those initiatives. The Child Advisory Group, consisted of around 20 children and young people up to 20 years of age and created by Save the Children, led the entire event organization and implementation process.
A Facebook page was created to inform all interested parties about the day’s events both in the capital city of Yerevan and the provinces. Frequent updates were posted on Facebook and Twitter pages of Save the Children in Armenia, and an informative session was initiated via Google Hangouts. The posters developed by CIVICUS were adapted to stress child participation and provided to children to answer the question whether or not they believe they have the opportunity to participate in making decisions. Children responded by choosing “yes”, “no”, or “I don’t know,” and then they expanded on their answers by statements supporting their opinions.
A video program was aired by CivilNet online TV with participation of Save the Children Armenia Country Director Arsen Stepanyan and member of Child/Youth Advisory Group Zara Torgomyan who spoke about the importance of child participation for children, adults, and the country in general. Zara also presented some of the results of child participation activities initiated by the Group with Save the Children support, thus calling her peers act and take all the necessary steps to express their views in the family, school and in the society in general. Three groups of children joined the TV airing live to speak about the opportunities and limitations of children’s participation in Armenia. The full version of the online TV program in Armenian is available here: http://civilnet.am/2015/05/16/armenia-civicus-save-the-children-society/#.VkGi1LcrLIV.
Alongside Save the Children’s event, UNICEF Country Representative prepared a video message that emphasized the importance of child participation in matters that affect them. “The right to be listened to and to be taken seriously , recognizing children as active agents of their own lives, represents a profound change in the legal and social status children traditionally have in most countries. We need to guide and support children to reach an understanding and represent their views in different fora. Today we ask you to put children first and ask their opinion in the things that affect them,” she said.
The Armenian ombudsman’s office issued a statement as well, referencing the UN CRC and every child’s right to participate in decisions that are made in regards to their well-being.
Children have the right to be heard, and to participate in their own sovereignty, independence, values and environment of their choosing. Children’s rights can be violated when parents, guardians or other authorities disregard the child’s voice and wishes, and make decisions regarding without consulting the child. Given the importance of the child’s right to raise their voice, the event called on those responsible for children’s rights and child-related issues to listen to children’s voices and to enable them to participate in decisions that concern them.