With hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of Cairo demanding their rights and a democratic system, it may be that life will never be the same again in the Middle East and beyond. But what might the fulfilment of rights and democracy look like? Some have assumed that Egypt needs to follow Western examples, with Parliament, elections and a free press, to safeguard people's rights. But this is not enough. Representative parliamentary democracy may be the least worst political system but it does not guarantee people's rights, which is partly why civil society has an important role to play. One of our key roles is to press for recognition of the political rights of groups often overlooked by representative parliamentary democracy. The largest of them is people too young to vote, who should be consulted through participatory democracy.
Children are rarely taken seriously as political actors despite Article 12 in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child stating that their voices should be heard on matters that affect them. They are viewed as human becomings rather than human beings. ChildHope's new Indian partner organisation, Concerned for Working Children, point out that giving children genuine roles in politics can be good for their education and development but can also lead to exciting results.
For example in Karnataka, India 20,000 village children have been fighting the impact of the floods and winning. Below is an extract from a recent newspaper article in The Deccan Herald about the impact the children are making.
"Deep in the heart of rural India, children are coming together to improve their daily lives. They do not simply make demands according to their whims. In 2006, after organising meetings among themselves to discuss problems affecting them, they began working with village leaders to find practical solutions acceptable to everyone. For example, flooding on a local road meant children had to wade through knee deep water to school and women to fetch water. However, the men of the village thought improving the local road some of them used was more of a priority. After carrying out a door to door survey in the village, they discovered many more children and women would benefit from a footbridge over the river compared to improvements to the road used by far fewer men. After convincing the village elders to build the footbridge, the children gained respect from adults and were encouraged to put forward their ideas and hopes for the future. Since 2004, 20,000 children have taken part in organised meetings, discussions and surveys to take an active part in village matters."ChildHope is delighted to be working with this world leader in children's participation in democracy. They have shown that given the chance to engage seriously in decision-making children have found ways to overcome challenges, including those faced by disabled children, and influence how resources are spent by local governments. Clearly at different ages people need to participate in different ways and we need to be creative about finding opportunities for children to influence adult decision-makers. (For examples, see UNICEF). Certainly a blank denial of children's political rights is beginning to look untenable.