This article discusses how the children’s participation rights and competence has maintained unchanged and unchallenged over the years. However children are still not considered apt to be included as an opinion giver in the polity. Although there are international projects which give voice to children, society is not ready to allow children to participate in decision making process. Participation rights have been established by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in the Article 12 under ‘the right to freely express one’s opinion’, on the condition that the child is capable of taking it, and in matters that affect them. The article shows that children’s opinions should be given due weight depending on their age and maturity. Children are unique and gifted and it is the adults’ duty or task to bring out the spark within them. Children’s participation rights have not been the result of children’s own mobilization and dispute over their social condition of subordination and oppression, but there are granted by their representatives (parents, school, government), who could speak in their ‘best interests’. Children’s participation rights did not enhance a clearer understanding, from the point of view of children themselves, about the directions in which relationships of subordination and oppression between children and adults that involved them should be changed.
Keywords: Childrencitizenparticipationchildren’s rightscitizenshipsociety
The notion of children’s participation is still meeting significant difficulties. In the first place, the
acknowledgement of children’s participation in the convention is couched in conditional terms, that is,
only if the child is able to demonstrate it and in matters that directly affect them directly.
In practical terms, this means that children’s participation is understood as the expression of their
opinions which become admissible and legitimate when children are already practicing it, which means
that the children are being capable of it and it is showed by their action itself. Therefore, the legalized
notion of participation is opening up novel ways to include children’s voices, bowing to the
conventional wisdom that participation depends on‘maturity’, and not the other way round, that
‘maturity’ is acted out through and by participation.
Children’s participation rights as disposed in national and international laws have been subsumed
under the prevailing notion of citizenship based on a model of subjectivity geared to act rationally, to
express oneself through dialogic, to act with emotional independence, self-control and subjective
In order to participate and be considered a legitimate ‘opinion-giver’, children would have to
conform to such established conventions of public debate which, even for most adults, pose enormous
difficulties. Such codes of behavior and acting have to be learnt as situations demand by all who wants
to participate in the society.
Children’s participation has become dependent on their possibility of showing the very same
capacities which adults are supposed to show, in conformity to the requirements of a “good –
citizenship” (James, 1992). On this point Wyness (Wyness, Harrison & Buchanan, 2004) has noted that
adults’ inclusion in the polity is not based on competence, but on status. So we must recognize
childhood as a status so that children can have the possibility to make a change in the world, to have a
word to say in the society in which we all live.
We as guides must know how to empower children to become active members of the society and to
guide them as they learn how to communicate with others from different cultures and to create their
own place, which will became the world of tomorrow. We must let children know that what they bring
from home and from their culture has significance and in order to do that, we have to incorporate their
believes within the society and also in the laws, by which the society is led by.
The promotion of children’s participation has been followed by the search for authentic forms of
participation, particularly in relation to voice of children. There is critical engagement within childhood
studies over the extent to which we can talk about the child’s voice free from adult distortion or
mediation. It has been argued adults have played a dominant even overpowering role in children’s
2. The Notion of Development
The notion of development has been explained that human subjects are born in a supposed condition
of incompleteness, gradually becoming ‘complete’. Under “developmentalism” the opinion of humans
have been construed as a sequenced and cumulative process of
adulthood whereby one’s species potentials would flourish under the stimulation of legitimate
“universal” social and educational intervention.
The ordeal/pain of children’s preparation put them in a world aside under the guise of protecting
them from the “real” world, thus producing an irrevocable disjunction between participation and
A lot of discussion on children’s participation is still couched in terms of their developmental
capacities. Shier, in his
should not be pressed to take responsibility they do not want, or that is inappropriate for their level of
development and understanding. However, in practice adults are more likely to deny children
developmentally appropriatedegrees of responsibility’ (Shier, 2001).
Current literature and articles on the topic, which is children’s participation has insightfully noted
that participation can often stand in a relationship of tension and opposition as far as protection is
Sinclair (2004) points out that ‘taking responsibility for someone resulted in taking responsibility
away from them’. She questions whether the participation agenda will effectively promote the
restructuring of institutional cultures and adults’ expectations so that children’s participation becomes
an integral part of how adults relate to children.
3. The Notion of Participation
The notion of participation that has been lately introduced as a new paradigm in the regulation of
children and adults’ relationships has not radically changed the normative conception of children’s
subjectivity which establishes:
a) a straightforward trajectory of attainments, abilities and performances whose finality is defined
by the conventional wisdom of what it is to be an adult – a rational, socialized human being;
b) the positioning of the child at the initial point is attributing to him/her the restricted
participatory role of adhering to such demands of socialization;
c) the granting of ‘participatory competence’ as the child assumes a more adult-like subjectivity.
Participation demands inclusion of different partners in the process of establishing goals and values
of conviviality. School goals – in an adult-centered society – have been established so as to prepare
children for adult roles (Blanchet & Rainbow, 2006).
Such unequivocal goals need to be problematized if children are to be included in the construction
of school life. Alderson (2000) has put it cogently: ‘Schools cannot simply ignore democracy; they can
either promote democratic practices or actively contravene them, there is no neutral middle ground.’
Maybe some anxieties about what future awaits schools – and what unknown challenges are to be faced
– are constraining the advances of our participation momentum.
Findings about children`s citizenship in my research lead me to see that children can take action
through methods which are seen as actions of citizenship (broadly contributing to dominant definitions
of social good) and acts of citizenship (transgressing established norms to rebalance distributions of
rights, responsibilities and status).
Acts of citizenship are distinct from the actions of citizenship identified above, because they do not
contribute to citizenship in currently accepted ways. Acts of citizenship claim shifts in rights and
responsibilities, new distributions of resources or a new political status that stretch beyond existing
boundaries, bringing ‘into being new actors as activist citizens (claimants of rights and responsibilities)
through creating new sites and scales of justice’. Acts dispute how social goods and attitudes are
‘shared, cared for, encouraged, protected or transformed, disciplined, outlawed, abandoned’ in a
specific time and place.
This article tries to reveal four ways in which children’s agency can be seen as practices of
1. Negotiation of rules (Wyness, 2009);
2. 2. Contribution to social good (Lúcio & I’anson, 2015);
3. 3. Contribution to the achievement of individuals’ rights (Balahur & Quarsell, 2008).
4. Transgressing existing boundaries of citizenship to dispute balances of rights, responsibilities
and status, enacting activist citizens answerable to justice (Graham & Fitzgerald, 2010).
Recognizing children’s activities of social contribution as actions of citizenship challenges dominant
definitions, because it values children’s current rather than future contributions to social good.
Recognizing that children exercise freedoms to enact their individual rights, whether these are rights
in the UNCRC or fulfilling appropriate responsibilities of neoliberal citizenship, challenges notions of
childhood dependence and acknowledges how they are at times called upon to fulfil their own rights in
the absence of social provision (Balahur, 2001).
This article may generate understanding of the different citizenships children live and aspire to. This
is not to deny the importance of participation, but to also value the practices through which children do
not participate in the citizenship they are offered, but enact citizenship of a different kind.
To have a good society and to have good citizens we must recognize the right of children to
participate in all aspects of live, to encourage them to take actions, to speak their minds, to make a
change in the world where they live.
- Alderson, P. (2000). School students’ views on school councils and daily life at school. Children and Society, 14, 121–134.
- Balahur, D. (2001). Protecția drepturilor copilului ca principiu al asistenței sociale. București: Ed. All Beck. Balahur, D., Quarsell, B. (2008). Drepturile copiilor la educație și informare într-o lume globalizată [Childrens rights to education and information in a global world]. Iași: Editura Universității ”Alexandru Ioan Cuza” Iași.
- Blanchet – Cohen, N., & Rainbow, B. (2006). Partnership between children and adults? The experience of the International Children’s Conference on the Environment. Childhood, 13(1), 113–126.
- Graham, A., & Fitzgerald, R. (2010). Progressing children’s participation: Exploring the potential of a dialogical turn. Childhood, 17(3), 343–359.
- James, S. (1992). The good-enough citizen: Citizenship and independence. In: Bock, G. and James, S. (eds.), Beyond Equality and Difference: Citizenship, Feminist Politics and Female Subjectivity. London: Routledge
- DOI: 10.15405/epsbs.2016.09.75 eISSN: 2357-1330 / Corresponding Author: Rareș Alexandru Miron Selection and peer-review under responsibility of the Organizing Committee of the conference
- Lúcio, J., I’Anson, J. (2015). Children as members of a community: Citizenship, participation and educational development – an introduction to the special issue. European Educational Research Journal, 14(2), 129 – 137.
- Shier, H. (2001). Pathways to participation: Openings, opportunities and obligations. Children and Society, 15, 107–117.
- Sinclair, R. (2004). Participation in practice: Making it meaningful, effective and sustainable. Children and Society, 18, 106–118.
- Wyness, M. (2009). Children representing children: Participation and the problem of diversity in UK youth councils. Childhood, 16(4), 535–552.
- Wyness, M., Harrison, L., & Buchanan, I. (2004). Childhood, politics and ambiguity: Towards an agenda for children’s political inclusion. Sociology, 38(1), 81–98.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
About this article
04 October 2016
Print ISBN (optional)
Communication, communication studies, social interaction, moral purpose of education, social purpose of education
Cite this article as:
Miron, R. A. (2016). The ‘Good Society’ and the ‘Good Citizen’ Children’s Right to Participate. In A. Sandu, T. Ciulei, & A. Frunza (Eds.), Logos Universality Mentality Education Novelty, vol 15. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 598-602). Future Academy. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2016.09.75