9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN04 Sociology of Children and Childhood

2009-09-03 13:30:00 2009-09-03 15:00:00 Thursday, 3 September 13:30 - 15:00 Citizenship and Participation Building II, C6.02

Children's participation in the traps of cultural diversity

The core "participatory rights" codified in the UNCRC are based on the idea of an individual right to speak and be heard on issues affecting the child. At the same time the child is socially represented as a being separated from the adult world, but in the process of becoming a (complete) adult. The right of the child to speak and be heard is restricted to "matters affecting the child", which in practice regularly precludes the child from political and economic responsibilities.
By contrast, in many ("non-Western") cultures the child is represented as an integral member of the community, maybe with particular characteristics, but not strictly separated from the "adult" members of his or her community. Depending on existing and constructed capabilities (that are not necessarily measured against a chronological age), children are expected to take over specific tasks that are important to the community. These tasks can be of social, economic or political nature, and at the same time rules giving children control over specific goods.
Concerning the children´s standing in and the influence on society, we consider whether such patterns regulating the relations of the child and the community can open spaces for children´s participation that takes place outside of the narrowed conceptual horizon of a "Western" notion of participation, and children need not wait until they become adults to be considered as responsible and acting members of society. Children´s participation here is not understood as a specific type of communication with children that is to be punctually arranged for specific purposes, but as a seminal element of a daily, meaningful and essential agency. Irrespective of how participation is understood, it has to be voluntary and carried by mutual respect to be meaningful.
The paper discusses the concepts and practices of participation in different cultural, economic and political contexts. It asks, on the one hand, if the "participatory rights" codified in the UNCRC can be understood and implemented in an intercultural sense, and, on the other hand, if children?s agency in "non Western" cultures can partly be understood as a manifestation of potentially transformative rights claiming by children.