Democracy Building – Role Played by Children
Author: Mimansha Singh
II Year | Dharmashastra National Law University, Jabalpur
According to the report by The Economist Intelligence Unit, India has ranked 53rd in the Democracy Index. This implies a bad situation as earlier in 2019, it ranked 51. Democracy is a form of government where the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly or indirectly through a system of representation. Children are the future citizens of the country. Policies made should consider their concerns. This article analyses the role of children in a democracy.
Rights of Children as per the UN:
The right to be heard and to participate is one of the most important rights enshrined under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). As mentioned in Article 12 of the UNCRC:
- Firstly, “States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.”
- “For this purpose, the child shall, in particular, be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.”
Children’s needs v/s interests:
There is an obligation on every country’s government, community, and organizations, to consider the opinions of children and value them in a democracy. Generally, there are two assumptions: First is that formal political duties start at the age of 18, and secondly, that children are not mature enough to develop a legitimate opinion and therefore, need protection.
Due to these reasons, most adults don’t take into account the opinions of children in decision-making. Therefore, it is important to understand that the ambiguity between political inclusion and the need to protect can be articulated by distinguishing between children’s needs and children’s interests.
Participation of Children in Democracy:
Many countries allow children to participate in the decision-making process. New Zealand held “Agenda for Children” in 2001 where children expressed societal problems. South Africa launched “Children in Action” which included children in parliamentary hearings. Israel invites children to child-related committees. Also, the Rwandan government holds the National summit for Children and Youth. There are also around 30 countries that allow their participation through children’s parliaments.
Participation in India:
In Karnataka, children can get an insight into democracy through “Makkala Grama Sabhas”. Vasudev Sharma, a child rights activist, noticed the problem of school children missing in the democratic structure. As a result of his continued efforts, the Karnataka Government released a circular about the formation of Makkala Grama Sabhas. Here, children discuss their important issues with the high official members of the Panchayat. These issues include problems related to infrastructure, education, and other basic facilities. Once a year, these children’s representatives collect all the issues. The important issues are then transferred to the Chief Minister for consideration in policymaking.
Another example was when in the Rajasthan elections in 2018, children urged the parties to include certain basic facilities in their manifesto. Under the ‘Dasham’ initiative, children released their booklet urging political parties to include facilities such as providing sanitary pads free of cost, building toilets in schools, and electricity in villages.
Children’s parliament in Rajasthan in 1990, represented and provided different changes in the local community. These children were between 6 to 14 years of age. They also brought many noticeable changes in education policies.
Children’s parliament program aims at solving ground-level problems. In 2019, at a gathering at the District-Level Children’s Parliament Programme in Kandkur village in Yadgir, children came together to discuss societal issues. In these meetings, children discuss problems related to child marriage, poverty education, etc., with the local authorities.
Challenges in increasing democratic participation:
- Firstly, the lack of funding by state and organizations leads to an inadequate source of resources. It limits the opportunities of children from different backgrounds to be involved in these programs. Hence, to hear the voices of children, it is important that adequate resources and funding should be provided.
- Secondly, children coming from different backgrounds have different problems. But due to the lack of inclusiveness and engagement in rural areas and less information about such events, limited opportunities are available for all children, which is a problem in policymaking. Language and cultural barriers add to these issues.
- Thirdly, the problem of planning is a hurdle. According to a research in Scotland on the impact of young children’s participation in policymaking, planning is a huge problem while proceeding with initiatives to engage children in a democracy.
- Lastly, contacting children is difficult and disorganised. There are no plans to increase engagement of children. Therefore, there is no fixed format or established procedure on how to call children.
Children help in getting more information about ground-level problems, along with providing solutions for them which can be helpful for policymaking. Children need vital understanding to engage children in democracy building. Further, in a democracy, the power lies in the hands of the people. It’s always important to know what children think about the issues and introduce democracy to them at an early age. Thus, decision-making should start at the school and home levels. This will then reach the local and then national level.
Various youth forums and councils must be encouraged to engage students and children in discussing issues and also provide their views on current topics. The curriculum in schools, as well as local communities, should teach democracy to children. Hence, the participation of children is important to address the problems pertaining to children. Policymakers should ensure the availability of resources, which shall eventually help children to develop themselves as active citizens of the country.
 PTI, India falls to 53rd rank in EIU’s Democracy Index, dubbed as flawed democracy, THE ECONOMIC TIMES (Mar. 15, 2021, 08:23 PM), https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/india-falls-to-53rd-position-in-eius-democracy-index-dubbed-as-flawed-democracy/articleshow/80665859.cms.
Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS (Mar.12, 2021, 09:00 PM), https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CRC.aspx.
 Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS (Mar.12, 2021, 09:00 PM), https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CRC.aspx.
 John Wall, Can democracy represent children? Toward a politics of difference, SAGE JOURNALS, 19 (2011).http://kingscollege.net/pomfret/3300/readings/Wall%20Democracy.pdf
 Agenda for Children, MINISTRY OF SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT (Mar. 15, 2021, 07:50 PM), https://www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/publications-resources/planning-strategy/agenda-children/index.html#:~:text=During%20April%2C%20May%20and%20June,in%20the%20Agenda%20for%20Children.
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Editor: Ananya Manjunath