Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of A Child provides for a child right to to participate and their voices heard. This article implementation has faced a huge challenge over the last few months as children were forced to stay at home as part of controlling the spread of COVID19.
The UNCRC adopted a General Comment on the Right of the Child to be Heard. This General Comment elaborates in detail the scope of Article 12, and how the CRC expects governments to interpret their obligations to children’s participation under this provision. It is intended to provide an elaboration of the legal, policy, and programmatic safeguards that governments are expected to take to implement Article 12, and how to interpret its meaning. The African Charter reaffirms the importance of children being afforded a voice and being taken seriously, both within judicial and administrative proceedings and at the wider societal level.
For child participation to be effective and meaningful, it must be understood as a process and not as a single event. Thus children’s effective and meaningful participation starts at the household level, children should be given support and encouragement to form their own organisations and initiatives, which will create an environment for them to discuss their rights and express their own views, driving children to social media platforms to express themselves.
The spread of COVID 19 and the restriction of movement has resulted in disruption on how many programs and activities are done, especially child participation. Work from home, home schooling and virtual meetings have been embraced as the new normal.
Global Index Insights show that Generation z (16-24 year olds) consuming more media than older generations, with some notable differences by age, mostly online videos like YouTube and TikTok, making it their top media to consume right now. Which according to JP Morgan is a permanent shift that has taken place across the industry from a linear platform to a digital platform. This can be seen in the increase in subscription and consumption of social media platforms for instance Facebook’s total use across its messaging services has increased by more than 50% in areas most affected by the virus.
Mtoto News International (Mtoto News) an integrated digital information and media company that is leveraging technology to improve the lives of children by making them visible in society, policy and practice. We envision a child-centered world, where children’s voices and circumstances are leveraged in all decisions that affect them.
To ensure children voices continued to be heard during COVID19 pandemic decision making process, immediately embraced technology when the first case of virus was announced. Through the different platforms Mtoto News has been able to hold numerous child participation virtual events.
The virtual child participation forums take into consideration four interrelated elements as provided by Article 12: space, voice, audience, and influence. i) Space: we give children an opportunity to express their views ii) Voice: we facilitate children to express their views iii) Audience: we ensure decisions are present/available to listen to children and iv) Influence: their views have been acted upon where appropriate.
In the last few months we have learnt a number of lessons on holding Virtual Child Participation forums. We would like to share some of this lessons
Identifying of Children
Most children are at home during this season, hence Mtoto News has worked with children officers and NGOs at National level to link us to the parents, who we talk with and request permission for their child to participate in the virtual events.
We are keen not to have the same children in all our virtual events, hence we have a database to know which child has participated in what event.
We understand that during this season, parents are strained in providing for their children. Hence, we learnt from the onset to provide an internet bundle for children who will be participating in the events. We also know that there are children who don’t have access to smartphones, in which case we work with grassroots organisations to provide smartphones or computers at the child’s home or at their offices taking consideration to social distancing .
The digital environment has provided amazing opportunities for children to learn and engage, however we also understand their huge risks on the digital media platforms including bullying, zoombombing, exposure to pornographic materials. Taking this into consideration we take the following child safeguarding measures
- Obtain Informed parental consent, it will be helpful if the consent form is digital, so their is no printing of paper or exchanging of papers to reduce contact
- Have a preparation session where we explain the details of the events, most children have interacted with most virtual meeting platform and hence may not be familiar with the different features, thus it will be important to have them come in the meeting 30 to 45 minutes early so that they can be taken through the features and especially how they can be safe while attending the virtual meeting
- Block videos of children who are from a sensitive context, the internet is a huge forest with different characters and to ensure that children are safe to express themselves, block their videos so that they talk incognito without fear that what they are saying will impact negatively on them.
- Ensure all participants of the virtual event register, to ensure the safety of children when attending the virtual meeting. All participants must register indicating their email and organisation, with this information as an organiser you are able to regulate who join and does not join the meeting
- Ensuring there are at least 2 co hosts for every meeting for crowd control and to identify any issues during the online meeting. This is especially when holding events with more than 50 children, to help in taking questions to inquiries.
- Not to share the registration links on social media. It is very tempting to share registration or the meeting links on social media, but with so much hacking of meetings going on, do not share the meeting details on the social media platforms.
- Have children put only one name, also for safeguarding purposes, it will be important to share the children both names.
- Where children have to be in an office for them to participate, it is important to have the event early, so children have time to join the event and go back home when there is still day light.
- Data Protection, holding meeting online means that the child will have to share a lot of their data to the organiser, hence as an organiser it will be important to commit to data protection protocols including disclosing how you will use the data, not sharing the data with third parties, if you have to use the data for any other purpose apart from the meeting, disclose this to both the children and the guardian.
Meaningful engagement of children
We believe child participation is more than just having children present in a virtual event. Hence to ensure children voices are heard during events we use the following strategies
- Develop questions and share with children in advance, give the children questions or talking points to help them prepare for the meeting. This does not mean couching the children on what to say during the events.
- Have time bound sessions for each question, zoom fatigue is real thing and over the last few months it has a reality, this becomes worse on children. Thus, the important of having children virtual be as short as possible but also meaningful, thus have a timed out script, with a minute by minute plan to ensure that the objectives of the meeting have been met. This been said does net mean being so ligid, hence allocate an extra 15 to 30minutes over for the virtual meeting.
- Allow children to speak, it will be not be a child participation forum, if we dont have children talking, thus give children time to express themselves and finish up their points.
- In case there was an adult session, allocate time for children to speak. In most virtual events, where children are participating, most cases children are not given an opportunity to contribute in the conversations, hence give children some time to address the audience.
- Compile virtual events proceeding into a report and communique, if it is not written, it did not happen. Thus, as an organiser it will be important for you to compile the proceedings of the meeting in a report or communique and share it with a wide audience.
- Have two moderators to help in guiding the conversations, like a physical meeting, children tend to want to talk at the same time. Hence, having two moderators will help ensure that all children are given an opportunity to talk and no question goes an answered.
- Where children can join in the meeting, let them send pre recorded messages. This messages can be shared with other participants and decision making
Last but not least, have fun during the meeting, have icebreakers in the beginning of the meeting it can be a poll, Kahoot or slido game. Or you can ask an interesting question that requires the children to think, In the middle of the event, have a fun game or watch a video that breaks the monotony of listening to people talk, at the end of the meeting give a virtual reward to the most active person. (Get creative for this)
You can check the over 10 virtual child participation forums on our youtube channel youtube.com/mtotonewsTV
If you have any more points do let us know in the comments section.
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Mtoto News is a Digital Online platform of news,information and resources that aims at making significant changes in the lives of children by making them visible.Read mtotonews.com or follow us on Twitter and Facebook@mtotonewsblog