This book outlines the Nordic Council of Ministers’ cross-sectoral strategy for children and young people in the Nordic Region, which makes children and young people aged between 0 and 25 a priority target group.
A central goal of the strategy is for the Nordic Council of Ministers to integrate the perspective of children’s rights and young people into their work to a greater extent, thus highlighting and taking into consideration the voices of children and young people. Based on the principles enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Nordic Council of Ministers seeks to protect and promote the rights of boys and girls, young women and men, and to provide opportunities for them to exercise these rights and participate in society. The well-being of children and young people and opportunities for them to exercise their rights are prerequisites for sustainable development in the Nordic Region. The Nordic Council of Ministers wants to ensure that the region is a pioneer in efforts to create a society that respects the rights and perspectives of children and young people, and gives them opportunities to contribute to the way in which their society develops.
Democracy requires participation – and not just by adults. People of all ages have the right to contribute to and influence society. Participation means opportunities to make your voice heard, to form an opinion and to have it considered. But it also means exercising influence over your own life and having enough information to make informed decisions. Twenty-seven years after the signing of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, children and young people’s participation still presents challenges.
Inspiration, information and instruction
This publication aims to inspire administrative bodies, organisations, individuals and others to recognise their opportunities and responsibilities. Participation in society and having influence over one’s own life is not only a right for boys and girls, young women and men, but it also leads to better decision-making, more engaged citizens and a more inclusive society. We also wish to spread the word about some of the excellent work being done in the Nordic Region with regard to participation by children and young people.
However, it would be of little use to provide insights into what is happening in the Region without also offering some practical guidance. As a result, a number of civil society bodies – youth organisations, administrative agencies and local and regional authorities – kindly share tips, ideas and cautionary tales aimed at ensuring the right to participation for children and young people.
Thank you to all the participating bodies and organisations for their co-operation and generous contributions to the publication.
The Nordic Committee for Children and Young People (NORDBUK) is the Nordic Council of Ministers’ advisory and co-ordinating body regarding matters relating to Nordic and international children’s and youth policy. All sectors of the Nordic Council of Ministers have a responsibility to continually develop their knowledge of the situation of children and young people in their policy area, as well to integrate a children’s rights and youth perspective into their work.
Whether you are a children’s rights specialist, a civil servant, a youth activist or an ICT manager for an organisation, the right of every child and young person to participate fully in society is relevant to you. In this short guide, we will introduce you to some of the basic concepts you need to bear in mind.
The right to participation is one of the defining articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is not just a right, but also one of the four guiding principles of the Convention. However, despite the fact that children’s rights advocates and youth organisations have been fighting for the right to participation for many years, turning it into a reality remains challenging. Evidently, it is easy to say that children and young people have the right to participate, but harder to make it happen.
Participation by children and young people is a complex and multifaceted issue. But primarily, it is a matter of democracy. Of the 26.5 million people living in the Nordic Region today, almost 5.5 million are children and 8.6 million are aged 26 or under. Their participation is not something for society to choose, but a right that we, as adults, have a duty to guarantee.
In this publication, we have gathered examples of participation from both a children’s perspective and a young people’s perspective. In some ways, the prerequisites for them are different, but both perspectives are equally important.
Children, both as a group and as individuals, are excluded from most of the formal parts of democracy, e.g. the right to vote or to be elected to official democratic bodies. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child gives them the right to form an opinion, and to have it heard and considered during the decision-making process. The Convention also stipulates that the opinion of the individual child should be given due weight in relation to age and maturity.
At least in theory, young people aged over 18 generally have the opportunity to formally participate in political processes. However, this does not mean that the right is fulfilled. Often, young people are excluded from decision-making processes, or the processes are inadequate.
Participation is not just about children and young people making their own decisions – it is much more than that. The child or young person must have the information they need to take part in and understand the process, and they must be given the time and opportunity to form and express an opinion. There must be a real possibility of actually influencing the decision or process, and the child or young person must be given feedback on the process.
DENMARK: Danish Pre-school Panel – a voice for the youngest
THE FAROE ISLANDS: “If we hadn’t done it, nobody would have”
FINLAND: Child-Friendly Cities – everybody’s business
GREENLAND: Closing the knowledge gap – children’s rights in focus
ICELAND: The Young People’s Constitution
NORWAY: The Change Factory empowers young people – love changes everything
SÁPMI: Queering Sápmi – “We’ve been more successful than we dared to hope”
SWEDEN: Unaccompanied minors get organised – “We want to show the way”
ÅLAND: No child-impact assessments without children
Article 12 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
Participation in society and having power over one’s life is a right – but it is also a resource. Excluding children and young people is therefore not only a violation of rights, but also a waste of resources.Modified and shortened version of the work of Gerison Lansdown and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. See Lansdown 2011 and General Comment 12, “The right of the child to be heard” (2009).
There are considerable areas of common ground in terms of the Nordic countries’ informal structures, challenges and prerequisites for participation by children and young people. However, the differences between them also play an important role, and help us to understand the different countries’ priorities.
Adults may have the best of intentions, but the right to participate is all too often violated or ignored. Resistance to children’s and young people’s perspectives takes many forms, and three issues in particular are common to almost all of the projects presented in this publication.
The nine examples in this publication have all, in one way or another, overcome one, two or all three of these obstacles – and many more besides. There is no such thing as a perfect process, but these examples present different ways of facilitating participation.
Different issues require different forms of participation. It is rarely relevant to just ask a child “What do you think about x?” If we are serious about considering the views of the child, asking them to answer questions designed for adults is not good enough.
Harry Shier’s model for participation, devised in 2001, is widely used alongside Roger Hart’s “Ladder of Participation”.See appendix 1 and 2, Hart (1992), Shier (2001), starting at page 86. Shier’s model prioritises possibility and responsibility at different levels of participation. At every step, we are to identify openings, opportunities and obligations.
It is important to stress that different forms of participation require different strategies. We need to take into consideration whether the target is an individual child, a general group of children or a group with specific experience or knowledge. The facilitator has to find the form and means of participation that suits the objective, the type of question and the target group. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has identified some very useful basic requirements that should guide all processes.
Basic requirements for fulfilling meaningful child and youth participationThis is a simplified and short version of the basic requirements. For the full version from the Committee on the Rights of the Child, please read General Comment 12, “The right of the child to be heard”.
Guaranteeing the rights of children and young people is not an option – it is a duty. The Nordic countries have all ratified the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child and are committed to fulfilling its obligations and to creating opportunities for children and young people to participate fully in society. Doing so requires knowledge and willingness, but also – and perhaps most importantly – a genuine understanding of the fact that children and young people are fellow citizens, have rights and are equal members of our democracy.
We hope that we will challenge every single reader of this publication. Making children’s and young people’s rights a reality starts with each and every one of us. Full participation will improve results, democratic processes and outcomes for all of us. No organisation can claim that this is irrelevant to them. Guaranteeing the rights of children and young people is everybody’s business.
Article 12 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
"Participation is a fundamental right. It is one of the guiding principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that has been reiterated in many other Conventions and Declarations. Through active participation, young people are empowered to play a vital role in their own development as well as in that of their communities, helping them to learn vital life-skills, develop knowledge on human rights and citizenship and to promote positive civic action. To participate effectively, young people must be given the proper tools, such as education about and access to their civil rights."
If participation is to be effective and meningful, it needs to be understood as a process, not as and individual one-of-event.
General Commentment 12 on the UN Covention on the Rights of the Child
It is extremely important to listen and be prepared to change your own preconceptions
According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, all children have a right to voice their opinions about issues that affect them. But how do you conduct comprehensive questionnaire surveys of children who have not yet learnt to read and write? The National Council for Children in Denmark has found a solution.
“Do you know what YouTube is?”
“Do you watch films on Netflix?”
“Would you rather play in a playground or on an iPad?
Children and Media, the Council’s latest questionnaire survey of children in pre-school nurseries, has generated some interesting responses. But how do you get more than 1,000 children who have not learned to read and write to fill in a questionnaire?
For years, the Council’s flagship has been its questionnaire surveys of school pupils, in which up to 2,000 students in grades 4–9 describe the reality of their lives and voice their opinions via digital questionnaires. The studies have attracted a great deal of media attention, provided important input to parents, teachers and other professionals – and even, in some cases, influenced policy. “But something was missing,” Stine Lindberg explains.
In 2010, the Council began work on the Pre-school Panel and the audio questionnaire. Stine Lindberg recalls the many challenges they faced, including finding robust technical solutions and designing the right kind of content.
“Everything needs to be read out loud, and we have to find the right images and characters. The words have to be understandable to pre-school children, and all of them have to understand the images in the same way.”
At first, the questionnaire consisted of questions with YES/NO/DON’T KNOW answers. However, this placed a number of limitations on what it could ask, and the Council is now working on a new technical solution that allows for a range of responses.
She explains that some images and symbols are easy enough, but an image representing “playing”, for example, could be misinterpreted.
The National Council for Children in Denmark
A government agency set up to promote and protect children and young people’s rights. The Council advocates on behalf of children, generates public debate and poses topical questions about the lives of children and young people. It also seeks to give children a distinctive voice in public debates. The Council works with the children’s ombudsman in other Nordic countries, but does not function as a helpline or complaint mechanism. In Denmark, the Parliamentary Ombudsman has its own children’s office, while the organisation “Children’s Welfare” operates its own helpline for children.
Testing, testing and more testing
Stine explains that a number of pilot questionnaires featuring different symbols and images were exhaustively tested on different groups of children before the real thing went live.
The final version of the questionnaire is issued online. In order to obtain a representative sample, the Council needs at least 100 pre-school nurseries to take part.
“Hi! It’s so great that you’re taking part,” says Sola, the smiling sun, at the start of the questionnaire. The children are then asked whether they are a boy or a girl, and their age. To answer, they choose between hands showing four, five or six fingers. The friendly voice belongs to Stine Lindberg. In five major surveys since 2010, she has interviewed more than 5,000 children
The quantitative study is supplemented with transcriptions of qualitative interviews, in which children reflect on their experiences.
For the qualitative interviews, Lindberg visits at least 2–3 nursery schools and speaks to at least 20 children – both to help prepare for the questionnaire and to provide context in which to understand the results it generates.
New insights into children’s reality
Once the survey is complete, the findings are analysed and published in a report. The aim is to provide new insights into how children perceive reality, insight that will be useful to staff in pre-school nurseries, to parents and to policy makers.
Children and the Media’s findings on the use of iPads and tablets gave rise to concerns. The study asked how children use the iPads/tablets, and whether these devices contribute to positive digital literacy and knowledge-sharing or whether they lead to dependence. Does playing games on iPads and tablets inhibit social development? Or do games help children forge social bonds? In previous years, the themes have been: expectations about starting school, the indoor environment, friendship and participation in the pre-school nursery.
The annual report by the Pre-school Panel also encourages parents to see the world through their children’s eyes. Instead of experts and parents making assumptions about children’s experiences, the Panel gives a voice to the children themselves.
A positive experience
Stine Lindberg always starts her interviews by saying, “You’re the expert. I’m just curious about your life.” She believes the children on the Pre-school Panel are happy to be asked about issues that are relevant to them.
Relevance to the child
Each individual child has the right to express their views on issues that affect them. These may be issues that have a direct impact on them as individuals or are of more general social relevance. The National Council for Children has conducted questionnaire surveys of children’s expectations about starting school, the indoor environment, participation in the pre-school nursery, friendship and their use of media.
No age limit on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, each child has the right to their own opinions and to express them. The Convention has no lower age limit – it is up to responsible adults to find ways for children to express their opinions. The Pre-school Panel is one such example.
If we hadn’t done it, nobody would have
The Faroese Youth Council (Føroya Ungdómsráð – FUR) has taken it upon itself to inform young people about education and training opportunities in the Faroe Islands. The project is the result of FUR’s impressive “can-do” attitude combined with sustainable funding from the government.
It all started in 2012, in the aftermath of the financial crisis. FUR arranged a competition called “Win an Apprentice”, which encouraged Faroese companies to take on an apprentice. The winning company would have the costs of an apprentice covered for a full year. In the process of mapping opportunities for apprentices in the islands, FUR was struck by the fact that there was no single source of information.
At first, FUR was surprised by the range of options – there were far more opportunities to study and for apprenticeships than they had anticipated. But even more surprising was the fact that there was no catalogue, no single source of information, no website, nothing to show all the courses or apprenticeships available in the islands. The information they did find was out of date and scattered across a number of different sources. FUR decided to do something about it.
Their solution was a printed catalogue and a website that collate all of the opportunities for education and training in the Faroe Islands. The project, called “Study in the Faroes”, has been a big success. The third edition of the catalogue was published in 2015, and an English version of the website was launched in early 2016. The project is an example of how the young civil society can take responsibility for development in their own country.
The population of the Faroe Islands is 50,000, 35% of whom are under the age of 25. Thanks to one of the highest birth rates in Europe, the population is actually growing slowly, despite the fact that many young people leave the islands. As in some parts of the Arctic region, a majority of those leaving are women, leading to a gender imbalance in the remaining population.
Katrin Dahl Hanusson is 20 years old. Like most young Faroese people, she is thinking about whether to stay or leave. But even if she leaves, she plans to return.
Rói B. Poulsen thinks that Hanusson’s situation is typical of her generation.
FUR’s “can-do” approach raises the question of responsibility. Some might argue that the youth council is doing the job of the government, or of the organisations that run the courses or provide the apprenticeships. Poulsen’s response is unequivocal.
He emphasises that FUR has both the competences and the contacts to map the opportunities available in the islands.
The two key success factors
What is civil society?
A strong and dynamic civil society is one of the basic pillars in a democracy and plays an important role in providing people with opportunities to channel their voices and interests. Civil society can be defined as all types of groups of people other than the state, the market or individual households/individuals, e.g. associations, foundations, interest groups, trade unions, employers’ associations, religious groups and networks in which people pursue a common goal, ideal or interest.
Youth councils in the Nordic Region
→ The Nordic Youth Council
→ The Youth League of the Norden Associations
→ The Norwegian Children and Youth Council
→ National Council of Swedish Youth Organisations
→ The Danish Youth Council
→ The Finnish Youth Cooperation
→ The Icelandic Youth Association
→ The Icelandic Youth Council
→ The Faroese Youth Council
→ The Greenland Youth Council
→ Åland’s Youth League
→ Swedish Sámi Youth
→ The Sámi Parliament in Sweden’s Youth Council
→ Norwegian Sámi Youth
→ Finnish Sámi Youth Organization
“Continued collaboration with and support of civil society” is one out of three strategic focus areas in the Nordic Council of Ministers’ cross-sectoral strategy for children and young people (2016–2022). Civil society – in the form of children’s and young people’s own organisations, as well as those whose job it is to protect children and young people and act as advocates for their perspectives – has an important role to play as a conduit for knowledge and as the individuals and organisations who work with and for children and young people at local, national and international level. It is important to find means of making the expertise that many stakeholders in civil society possess about children and young people accessible and deploying it in ways that have value for the Nordic Council of Ministers’ sectors, during both the planning and implementation stages of their activities.
We have to create an environment in which children are able to set the agenda and create the systems themselves – it’s not just a matter of being heard when adults are prepared to listen
As municipalities in Finland were already running a wide range of initiatives concerning children’s rights, UNICEF Finland had doubts about implementing the global initiative Child-Friendly Cities. Would it actually add value? After a two-year pilot focusing on cross-sectoral collaboration and participation by children and young people, it became clear that the answer was yes, it would.
Ira Custódio, who has managed the initiative from the start, explains:
The Child Friendly Cities initiative is global, but it can be adjusted and developed to suit national challenges and potential. In Finland, the concept was launched in 2012. So far, 13 municipalities have signed up since the start and are at different stages of the process.
UNICEF’s role in the initiative is to build capacity on children’s rights and help municipalities find solutions to specific challenges. The municipalities work with the ten building blocks, and earn recognition from UNICEF Finland for their work.
As part of preparing the work on Child-Friendly Cities, UNICEF Finland teamed up with an academic researcher, to analyse current strengths and weaknesses. A pilot project in Tavestehus started in 2012 and has been very helpful in developing the model.
The inter-sectoral approach facilitates broad commitment to the work and also highlights children’s rights across all parts of the local authority. One of the aims with this approach is to avoid a situation in which only one or two individuals within an organisation advocate children’s rights. The decision to join the initiative is taken at a high level, but the entire municipality shares responsibility for implementing it. This makes the work more sustainable, less vulnerable and more visible.
Being one of the guiding principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, participation by children and young people is fundamental to the Child-Friendly Cities. Child and youth participation is mainstreamed in and underpins all of the ten building blocks to some extent or another. However, blocks 3–8 in particular are directly related to different forms of child and youth participation. It is key to the work that many different aspects and perspectives of participation are included.
The concept of participation encompasses both individual rights and the collective rights of children as a group. Participation can be political, as in access to political power or the opportunity to advocate rights – but it also has a social dimension, which is a prerequisite for political participation. For every different type of participation, the process and the model need to be adjusted.
Experience shows that many municipalities face similar challenges – one of which is the question of equality.
“It’s plain to see that there is still a lot to be done when it comes to equality. Pre-school children, children with disabilities and children who – for one reason or another – live in difficult circumstances are less likely to be included in participation structures,” says Custódio.
The Child-Friendly Cities initiative stresses the importance of systematic work on participation by children and young people, as opposed to one-off events. At the same time, specific structures are needed that reflect the nature of the participation in the local area concerned.
At its core, Child-Friendly Cities is about making participation possible for all children.
The 10 building blocks for Child-Friendly Cities in Finland
Making children’s rights known
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, General comment no. 5
“The Committee believes that effective implementation of the Convention requires visible cross-sectoral co-ordination to recognize and realize children’s rights across Government, between different levels of government and between Government and civil society – including in particular children and young people themselves. Invariably, many different government departments and other governmental or quasi-governmental bodies affect children’s lives and children’s enjoyment of their rights. Few, if any, government departments have no effect on children’s lives, direct or indirect.”
The aim of the initiative is to support Finnish municipalities in the realisation of children’s rights. The building blocks are the same for all of the municipalities involved. Each building block is accompanied by a checklist to initiate, develop and evaluate the work. The model is based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as national and international research.
I feel that we have become tougher and less afraid of speaking up, and I’m glad that the politicians listen to us
The National Spokesperson for Children in Greenland has been working to close a knowledge gap. A few years ago, people in Greenland knew little about children’s rights. Nowadays, it’s a completely different story.
Little wonder that the country’s largest newspaper praises the efforts of the National Spokesperson for Children and MIO, the National Advocacy Centre for Children’s Rights. In about two years, more than a thousand children and several hundred nursery assistants, teachers, doctors, social workers, politicians, local authority caseworkers – and even police officers – have been taught about children’s rights.
Benjaminsen is one of two MIO consultants who have travelled far and wide to raise awareness of children’s rights. The programme “Let’s Strengthen Children’s Rights” started in 2014, when the National Spokesperson for Children and the Mayor of Sermersooq decided to work together on the issue.
Knowledge is power
The idea is that knowledge is power – it enables people to do what is best for children. The consultants say that many of the participants, e.g. local authority caseworkers, experienced eureka moments during the training.
“We met politicians who were only concerned with harbours and fish factories, but when we taught them about children’s rights, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Children have traditionally been allowed to join in with hunting, fishing and other adult activities, but involving children in decision-making was a new concept for them,” says Ellen Bang Bourup.
Geography and logistics present a range of challenges. Sermersooq council covers an area 25 times the size of Denmark, and there are often no roads between far-flung settlements. All activities therefore have to be well planned. There are big cultural differences, too – in the most remote settlements, the focus is on today’s or tomorrow’s hunt or catch, while the outside world is of secondary concern.
Thanks to MIO, this situation has started to change. The local schools have been teaching children about their rights, and training them to discuss issues and speak their minds. The pupils also made a number of tangible recommendations that were put to the local council.
All children have the right to be loved
One of the schools visited by MIO was Ukaliusaq in Nuuk. The teachers found the project really useful.
“They’ve learned that all children have the right to be loved and taken care of, even if their parents aren’t capable of doing it,” says Hanna Christensen.
Christensen teaches a “wellbeing class” for students with behavioural difficulties, which are often due to problems at home. Alcohol and cannabis abuse are deep-seated problems in Greenland, and many of the children’s comments reflect this.
“It is important that parents don’t drink when they have small children.”
Several of the pupils mentioned bullying, loneliness and discrimination as problems they encounter in their day-to-day lives. Some mentioned that pupils lack respect for teachers and for each other. They also voiced concern about their options for post-school education.
“It used to be that everybody would know if someone’s dad drank, but nobody would do anything. You didn’t grass or snoop.”
These days, the pupils at Ukaliusaq School are listened to and taken seriously. When they report a problem, it is noted, and the school addresses the issue with the parents. If this doesn’t help, the teachers then contact social workers.
KS Young Advisors
“KS Young Advisors” is a group of 13–17-year-olds that meets regularly to discuss topics such as the right to education, the right to good health, children’s living conditions, and conditions for young people with disabilities – all in the light of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Aviaaja (15) also found being an advisor interesting and educational.
“If we know that a classmate is being abused at home, we have to speak up. We have learned that it’s best to say something. A child has the right to feel safe and secure, and to speak up if something is wrong.”
Beforehand, the Young Advisors were nervous about the prospect of speaking to the local council. But once they started, it became much easier.
Local council willing to go further
Søren Valbak, Director for Children, Families and School Administration, says that the local council will continue to listen to KS Young Advisors about matters that affect children and young people.
He says that the council intends to continue working with the National Spokesperson for Children and MIO, in order to raise awareness of children’s rights even further.
Finally, Valbak emphasises that children’s rights are also about children learning to take responsibility. This is not traditional learning, but ‘life learning’.
UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva
Greenland ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992, signifying its commitment to complying with the contents. Signatories to the convention must report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) every five years. The Committee examines each report and addresses its concerns and recommendations in the form of “concluding observations”. Two regular recommendations are ensuring that children are informed about their rights and that adults who work with children in any capacity should be trained in children’s rights and know what they entail.
Sermersooq is one of four local authorities in Greenland. It covers an area 25 times the size of Denmark, and has a population of 22,000. In 2014, Sermersooq council and MIO entered into a formal agreement to improve children’s rights in the area. More than a thousand school pupils and a hundred professionals who work with children have learned about children’s rights.
Young people see things adults don’t see
When Iceland started revising its constitution, it was supposed to be a participatory process. “Everyone” was encouraged to provide input. But one major group was missing – young people.
In late 2010, the Ombudsman teamed up with UNICEF Iceland and the City of Reykjavik to launch a project designed to ensure that children and young people’s voices were heard in the constitutional amendment process. The project was called the Young People’s Constitution.
Producing relevant materials
However, there was one big problem. All educational materials about the constitution, legislation and other governance issues were pitched at university law students. Nothing was available for schoolchildren. New materials had to be produced quickly, as the constitutional consultation process had already started.
With the help of a copywriter, a cartoonist, a filmmaker and a group of young people, the team produced six short animated films about the constitution. The videos were primarily aimed at children aged 13 to 18 who would participate in the Young People’s Constitution project, but the material proved to be useful in a broader context.
Engaging young people
Many Icelandic local authorities already had youth councils, some of them more active than others. But they had never previously joined forces. In April 2011, the national youth council forum brought together 42 representatives from all over the country. The main topic was the revision of the constitution. Kristinn Jóhannsson, who was 16 at the time, attended the forum.
The forum resembled any other public consultation process, and was similar to events for adults. Following the forum, the
“Knowing that you can actually make a difference prompts you to put more thought into it. You search for more information so you can present your opinion and bring about real change. The fact that you are heard means you take the time to learn, it makes you more responsible,” says Kristinn Jóhannsson.
Young people see things adults don’t
The forum saw plenty of lively discussion and active participation. Some of the older members moderated the discussions, asking relevant questions and making sure that everyone got the chance to speak.
Bergsteinn Jónsson was impressed by the quality of the dialogue and discussion.
Kristinn Jóhannsson says that participation is not about giving children a superficial sense that someone is listening. He stresses that there is great value in young people’s input, as they see things from a different angle.
“Young people are the ones who will live most of their lives under the new constitution, so of course they should have a say in it,” adds Bergsteinn Jónsson.
Putting forward young people’s suggestions
At an early stage in the constitutional amendments process, a special constitutional council was appointed to present ideas and suggestions to parliament, which is the final authority on these matters. Towards the end of the youth forum, members of this constitutional council were invited to hear the young people’s conclusions.
The young participants came up with several tangible proposals. Silja Bára Ómarsdóttir says that none of the members of the committee had imagined that young people would be this engaged, nor did they think that schools would be open to discussing the constitution.
Children’s rights in the new constitution
A report from the youth forum was presented to the constitutional council and members of the Icelandic parliament. This led to the constitutional council putting forward a motion to expand the clause on children in the human rights section of the constitution, by adding a paragraph highlighting children’s and young people’s right to active participation in matters that affect them. The council also proposed an article about what is considered to be in the best interests of the child.
It has led to increased public awareness of the importance of youth participation. The teaching materials have been widely used in schools, making children more aware of the constitution and their own rights. And participation in the Young People’s Constitution has boosted the role of the youth councils.
Participation – a right and a resource!
Accessible information – a must!
One of the non-negotiable prerequisites for meaningful participation in a process, a project or society as a whole is access to information. The information needs to be written or presented in a way that makes it possible for the target group to fully understand the content.
The project consisted of three components
Processing young people’s input
The Young People’s Constitution was a project initiated in 2010 by UNICEF Iceland, the Ombudsman of Children and the City of Reykjavik. The revision of the Icelandic constitution is a fundamental matter, which may have profound effects on the structure of the society as a whole.
Young people should be listened to, and not just to be ‘nice’ or because it looks good
The Change Factory is helping to change perceptions of children in care, in the criminal justice system and in mental health. The keywords are empowerment, humility and, most of all, love.
A pro is a child or young person who has experience of the systems designed to help them. Alexander knows a lot about the childcare system – he was in and out of it for many years, due to neglect and substance abuse. Anika (17), another pro, knows about the mental health system.
Today, Anika and Alexander appear anything but ill or pitiful. They look you straight in the eye as they talk about the issues they care deeply about.
“Showing feelings was seen as unprofessional. But we’re human beings, and we want the people we interact with to be human, to be natural. Childcare professionals need to be more aware of how they come across sometimes when they’re upset,” says Anika.
Advice from experience
Anika and Alexander are travelling the country with more than a hundred other young people, talking with politicians, experts and educational institutions, giving advice and sharing their first-hand knowledge of the system.
“When I first met Marit [from the Change Factory], she looked at me and said: ‘I don’t think you are ill’. She treated me as an equal, as a person with insight into my own life. That was an important turning point,” she says.
“She made me believe that I had a lot to offer. She showed me the possibility of a life with meaning, without substance abuse. She gave me a choice and I chose life,” he says.
Taking children seriously
Marit Sanner and Eva Dønnestad started the Change Factory in southern Norway in 2004, with the aim of changing the country’s care system. They invited vulnerable young people to share their experiences and give each other advice on issues ranging from life at school to child protection and sexual abuse.
In 2009, Sanner relocated the Change Factory to Oslo and took on extra staff. It received funding for projects in new areas: young people who had been badly advised, young offenders and boys who had suffered sexual abuse. These young people now directly advise the national agencies.
Following input from children and young people, the Change Factory decided not to use questionnaires, but instead rely on qualitative methods. This involves meeting more children and young people, and making direct contact with informants.
She stresses that they always ask open questions – “What works? What needs to change?” – and then delve deeper once the young people become engaged.
Childcare Pros and other pros
The concept of Childcare Pros emerged when a young boy asked why he could not also be called a “pro” – and the answer was that he could. Since 2009, Childcare Pros, School Pros, Mental Health Pros, Justice Pros, Money Pros and Hospital Pros have been taking part in conferences, workshops and meetings with politicians.
Having an impact on the national childcare authorities was a major breakthrough for the Change Factory. It has now begun working with health authorities, and education authorities are next on the list. It has established itself as a national centre of excellence when it comes to involving children and young people in social development.
One of the Change Factory’s major development projects is “My Life” – a co-operation involving 150 childcare services across Norway. More than 50 childcare leaders are currently in Oslo discussing the way forward – and naturally, the Change Factory is there, too.
Rønning says she values the presence of the young pros, and underlines what lies at the heart of the project.
Gunnar Toresen, head of childcare in Stavanger, is also impressed by the young pros.
He also found out for himself what it feels like when people talk about you over your head, without asking you what you think, when some of the young pros spontaneously roleplayed a case conference in which Toresen was cast in the role of “client”.
Taking inspiration from the Change Factory’s methods, the Children’s Ombudsman in Sweden has developed a new way of working: Young Speakers.
“We have used these methods in our themed annual reports, and these in turn formed the basis for our reports to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The Committee praised the fact that our reports are so clearly based on the voices and experiences of children.”
Fredrik Malmberg, Swedish Children’s Ombudsman
Dignity is a recurring value in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 1
“… the child should be brought up in the spirit of the ideals proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, and in particular in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity.”
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, preamble
The Change Factory’s philosophy is rooted in the concept of dignity
“We want as many people as possible to live a dignified life. The individual knows best what dignity means to them. We help them to share their everyday experiences and find their own solutions.”
The Change Factory presents knowledge and experiences from children and young people. They invite children and young people currently in care to become “pros”, as their knowledge of their own lives has value and importance and forms the basis for good advice. The Change Factory is engaged in three types of activity: project work, advocacy and training. Advocacy work is aimed at national authorities, i.e. politicians, government departments and directorates.
Five main types of change instrument
Descriptions of reality
Ideas for change
Planning for the future
It’s about the space we give each other to be who we are
Queering SápmiThe project was funded by NORDBUK and the Nordic Cultural Fund, among others. Sápmi is the area traditionally inhabited by the Sámi people, who usedto be referred to as Laplanders in English. Covering the whole of the North Calotte and much of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Sápmi includes parts of
Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. faced considerable opposition when it started out. Some people even doubted whether there were any non-heterosexual Sámi at all. Some were afraid Sápmi would fall apart if these questions were raised. Others criticised the fact that the two project managers were non-Sámi. However, a combination of sensitivity and strong youth organisations not only resulted in a successful project but triggered other initiatives as well.
Sáminuorra (Swedish Sámi Youth) organised the Queering Sápmi project, which was initiated and originally run by cultural analyst Elfrida Bergman and photographer Sara Lindquist. The aim was to broaden horizons in the Sámi community by highlighting minorities within the minority. The participants were Sámi lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people (LGBTQ), aged 13–30, as well as Sámi young people.
The Sámi youth associations in Sweden and Norway, Sáminuorra and Noereh, had identified the fact that by not having an LGBTQ perspective, they were excluding certain young people.
He explains that many young Sámi are unable to live their lives to the fullest because to do so would defy and flout the prevailing norms in many Sámi families, villages and communities. Illness, anxiety and fear are common, as is the decision to leave Sápmi behind and seek out places that feel safer and more accepting.
Four years later, a new Sámi queer organisation has been launched and the Sámi parliaments in Norway and Sweden have received training in LGBTQ issues. Participants report that they have received positive feedback and expressions of support from friends and neighbours about their involvement in the project.
However, the project has not all been plain sailing. The fact that the project managers were non-Sámi was both an obstacle and an asset.
The project, Queering Sápmi, was in two parts. The first sought to highlight the personal experiences of Sámi LGBTQ people, resulting in an exhibition and a book, both of which were produced in seven languages (Lule Sámi, North Sámi, South Sámi, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian and English).
There were several reasons why stories were central to the first part of Queering Sápmi.
However, storytelling is also very much about empowering the participants who courageously shared their memories and experiences. For many, it was the first time in their lives that they had felt at all able to reconcile being Sámi and queer.
The touring exhibition, which was specifically targeted at young people aged 19–25, attracted around 65,000 visitors. The project also included seminars, discussion groups and lectures targeting youth organisations, young people and schools. Around 1,000 copies of the book have been printed and distributed.
The second part of the project was about networking and knowledge exchanges between Sámi organisations and LGBTQ organisations. The aim was to strengthen the Sámi LGBTQ perspective in the long term, and to build a permanent organisation for upholding the rights of Sámi LGBTQ people. Forums, seminars and networking led to the formation of the organisation Queer Sámit.
The project staged the world’s first-ever indigenous people’s Pride event in Kiruna, with over 300 participants. The programme included lectures and workshops on LGBTQ issues, Queering Sápmi’s mini-exhibition and a parade.
The Swedish and Norwegian Sámi parliaments decided to incorporate an LGBTQ perspective into their training and working practices. The Finnish Sámi Parliament has yet to follow suit, but Queer Sámit is working hard to get the issue on the agenda.
A lot has happened in the youth organisations, too. Sáminuorra and Noereh have begun incorporating an LGBTQ perspective into their activities, while the Swedish Youth Federation for LGBTQ Rights, Seta – LGBTI Rights in Finland and Queer Youth Norway are now incorporating a Sámi perspective into their activities. Efforts are also being made to get more done in Finland and, in the longer term, in Russia.
In her closing remarks, project manager Elfrida Bergman is clear about the project and its participants:
“That queer Sámi had the chance to meet each other, and to be visible in the Sámi community and on the queer scene.”
The best thing about the project, according to one participant
Three steps to non-discriminatory work
LGBTQ – Abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer.
Cisgender – the opposite of transgender. Anyone whose legal, biological, social, gender and gender identity are clearly male or female. Cis is Latin for “on the same page”.
Queer – A concept that questions norms regarding gender and sexuality. Being queer can be a way of describing your gender identity or sexuality, or reflect a desire to avoid narrowly defining your gender or sexual orientation.
Article Two UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
Article Two is one of the fundamental principles of the Convention. All other articles should be read in the light of Article Two, and all rights specified in the Convention must be upheld in a manner that is non-discriminatory.
“States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.”
“States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members.”
We want to support similar initiatives in the other Nordic countries
The Federation of Minor Asylum Seekers in Sweden (Ensamkommandes förbund – EKF) works to uphold the rights of children and young people who have fled to Sweden as refugees. EKF currently has five local groups and plans to expand its activities further in the Nordic Region. It was founded by young people who came to Sweden alone as children. An important aspect of their work consists of introducing newcomers to the Scandinavian concept and cultural phenomenon of being active members of societies, clubs and associations.
January 2016. Malmö Youth Centre is at full capacity for a seminar organised by the EKF. Jafar Akrami is retelling the tale of how he arrived – alone – in Sweden six years ago. Now he’s a bus mechanic, provides a home for an unaccompanied refugee child, works as a volunteer for EKF’s meeting place, Otto, and is on its board. The audience listens intently to his gripping tale of how he fled from Afghanistan to Iran, and later from Iran to Sweden.
The EKF gives a voice to young refugees who arrived in Sweden without their parents. It relies largely on volunteers. It is kept extremely busy by local authorities and other official agencies, as well as by children who have just arrived in Sweden and others who have been here for some time. Enquiries are flooding in, and the EKF is invited to more meetings than it can possibly attend.
Co-founder Hamza Ibrahim has been the chairperson for the last year. He says that, while many organisations possess the skills to deal with refugees, it is still important for young unaccompanied refugees to take the initiative and organise themselves. At the moment, the EKF has five local groups in Sweden, and plans to expand its activities as soon as this is financially viable.
The EKF runs Otto, a social hub in Malmö city centre, where people who arrived in Sweden as unaccompanied young refugees are welcome, no matter how long they have been in the country. It runs a busy programme every day, with groups for girls, study groups, language teaching, advice on asylum applications and many types of sport.
Number of unaccompanied children (under 18) applying for asylum in the Nordic countries 2015
Iceland – 5
Norway – 5,297
Finland – 3,024
Denmark – 2,068
Sweden – 35,369
→ More statistics
Many of the activities are organised in conjunction with other bodies, such as educational associations and sports clubs.
The EKF puts a great deal of effort into visiting new arrivals wherever they are currently staying, in order to offer support and information and act as positive examples. The EKF aims to teach young people essential life skills and inspire them to get involved.
Hamza Ibrahim describes the EKF as a grassroots initiative, based on a belief in the power of education. It sets up discussion groups in areas where refugee children live, in order to teach others how to set up, register and run their own associations. The focus has consciously been on encouraging young people to self-organise. Hamza says that studies have shown that young people who get involved in associations have a better chance of quick and positive integration.
Their work is greatly appreciated and in demand, and there is certainly no shortage of challenges.
However, the organisation has also encountered resistance and open racism. Hamza Ibrahim describes how the EKF’s e-mail inbox and Facebook page attract negative comments and threats.
In the last year, the EKF has made even greater efforts to change the way in which unaccompanied refugee children are received in the country. The members have direct experience of many of the questions raised by politicians and in the media. EKF seeks to give a voice to unaccompanied refugee children, particularly during the period just after arrival.
Hamza Ibrahim speaks from experience. After he arrived, he was given a home where he felt secure and had access to staff who helped him with his homework late into the night. After six months, he was able to attend an ordinary upper-secondary class. He is now studying social work at Malmö University.
However, Hamza Ibrahim reports that, in many cases, the reception process did not operate properly in autumn 2015. Through its contact with local councils and the Swedish Migration Agency, the EKF maintains a dialogue about refugee reception and the nature of the asylum process. He stresses that it is vital that the dialogue with official bodies also involves people who have personal experience.
In the long term, the EKF looks forward to expanding its activities to other Nordic countries.
The word “responsibility” occurs regularly in members’ descriptions of why they are so committed to the EKF. According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, children have the right to influence their own lives as well as other parts of society, and to set up associations and hold meetings. It is precisely those rights that the EKF seeks to exercise.
“The word ‘influence’ means a lot to me,” Hamza Ibrahim explains. “We started the EKF to exert influence. My task now – representing young people who come unaccompanied to Sweden – is huge. It’s my responsibility to do what I can to help improve things.”
Back in the hall in Malmö, Jafar Akrami finishes his lecture, much of which has revolved around the prejudices he and his friends encounter.
“EKF is an important voice for many lonely young people, far from their family and previous social network. I was there when some of them graduated from high school last summer – it was one of the high points of the year for me, an extremely warm and collective experience.”
Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh, Mayor, City of Malm
Knowledge is a prerequisite for participation
First, you need to know your rights. Then you demand and exercise them. For example, the right to set up associations, the right to be free from discrimination, or the right to free schooling. Society has a responsibility to ensure that everybody knows their rights.
As part of its Strategy for Children and Young People, the Nordic Council of Ministers supports self-organisation and participation in the democratic process based on the abilities, needs and interests of children and young people.
Article 15 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
“States Parties recognize the rights of the child to freedom of association and to freedom of peaceful assembly.”
The right to organise is part of the Declaration of Human Rights, but in many countries it is not considered self-evident. Support from governments and civil society is an important foundation on which to build the long-term conditions that allow for organising and pave the way for positive outcomes.
Adults are older, so perhaps they know more. But they are not children, so they don’t think the same way
In Åland, as part of work on a new development plan for the town centre of Mariehamn, Save the Children and Mariehamn Council have been working together and listening to what local children have to say. The success criteria for the project is that it is done in co-operation between civil society and the local authority, that consultations with children are incorporated at a very early stage of the process and, in particular, that the children are listened to and due respect is paid to their views.
Child-impact assessments are an important part of the work of Save the Children Åland. Project manager Danielle Lindholm has visited all 16 local authorities to provide guidance and checklists on how to conduct a basic child-impact assessment. According to Danielle Lindholm, it is important not to be over-ambitious in order to get the work started. The local council staff have made good use of the checklists. Save the Children sees this as an important first step in initiating dialogue about how local government guarantees children’s rights, and the organisation is now pushing hard for the introduction of full-scale child-impact assessments.
A child-impact assessment involves mapping and analysing the consequences for children of a decision or process. The method is recommended by the Geneva-based UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which has drawn up guidelines for how they should be conducted. One of the important principles is that the children affected by a decision should always be consulted on it.
And yet efforts to involve children often encounter considerable resistance from adults. Danielle thinks that this may be due to prejudice, ignorance, habit or reluctance to cede power to children and young people. Or it may be due to adults simply being unaware of how their work or decisions affect children and young people. However, she stresses that it is rarely a matter of ill-will.
When work on the new development plan for Mariehamn centre began, the local council decided to conduct a child-impact assessment. Save the Children offered its support, including advice on methods of conducting dialogue with children. The planning department, the local administration and Save the Children planned and prepared the process together. Terese Flöjt, who is responsible for Mariehamn Council’s dialogue and engagement programme, is delighted with how it has all worked out.
Members of student councils from schools in the town were invited to go on walking tours and to attend workshops on local development. They have discussed different aspects of the town, what works and what could be improved.
The children’s views are now being compiled and passed to the planning department. They will form part of the ongoing work on the local development plan. The important work of providing feedback to the children will continue this year, and there will also be more meetings.
“Adults are older, so perhaps they know more. But they’re not children, so they don’t think the same way,” adds Valter Sundberg.
Both Danielle Lindholm and Terese Flöjt point out the similarities with the local authority’s dialogue and engagement activities with adults. It is not just about taking the views of small children or older children into account, but about how we deal with people in general.
Attention was also paid to how the children were treated during the process. For example, they always ate decent lunches with the adults in restaurants, and the adults always shook the children’s hands, introduced themselves properly and, of course, treated their views with respect. These are important details, which the children also identify as positives in their evaluations. Terese Flöjt also reports that the children were highly focused and keen to communicate their thoughts. Partly, she thinks, because they are not used to being listened to in this way. The children confirm this.
Terese Flöjt stresses that the most important thing is to dare to take the first step.
Ytternäs School Student Council’s tips on consulting children
Three common pitfalls
Forgetting the children. A child-impact assessment that fails to listen to the views of the children who are directly or indirectly affected is not a proper one.
Too late. A common mistake is that children are not brought in until the process is finished or almost finished, e.g. to give their views on two alternatives.
No feedback. The children who take part and communicate their opinions and points of view have the right to know what happens next: who takes their views into consideration and in what way, what has been done, what has not been done and what is happening now.
Danielle Lindholm’s six success criteria
“It’s easy to have faith in the future when there are so many good young people,” an elderly man said to me a few weeks ago. After reading this book, I can but agree.
Because we who are young are the future. We are the doctors, peacemakers, researchers and politicians of the future. But we are also potentially the criminals, extremists, substance abusers and underdogs, too. That’s why it’s so important to engage young people directly, to steer them in the right direction from the very beginning. That’s why we need organisations like the ones depicted in this book.
More and more young people feel that they don’t really fit in, that they’re on their own. They feel that their opinions are ignored, that they have no influence on what happens to them. Often, when people are excluded, they seek the company of others in the same situation. Society has let them down, so why would they want to give anything back?
That’s why it’s more important than ever to see the person behind the bruised exterior, to create new and better communities with room for everyone. We live in an era of great uncertainty and fear, and if we want the future to be different then it’s extremely important to take good care of those who will lead it.
Fortunately, the Nordic countries have many driving spirits who are working day and night to ensure that children’s rights are fulfilled – everyone from the pros of the Change Factory in Norway to the Children’s Panel in Denmark and the People’s Constitution in Iceland. What all of them have in common is that they are working to build a better society for the citizens of the present and the future.
I hope that this book will inspire young people, those who work with young people or have children of their own – but also people who fit none of these categories yet. All of these organisations are positive, living examples of the importance of child and youth engagement. It’s vital that someone is there to listen to young people – and help them lead the way.
Junior counsellor for youth participation and freedom of expression
URO (Youth Rights Organ), Plan International Norway
Publications on child and youth participation
Children and Young People in the Nordic Region – a cross-sectoral strategy for the Nordic Council of Ministers 2016–2022 www.norden.org
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)
CRC General Comment No 12. The right of the child to be heard. CRC/C/GC/12, (2009)
CRC General Comment No 5. General measures of implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, CRC/GC/2003/5, (2003)
CRC General Comment No 7. Implementing child rights in early childhood, CRC/GC/2007/7 (2007)
Landsdown, Promoting children’s participation in democratic decision-making, UNICEF (2001)
Landsdown, A Framework for Monitoring and Evaluating Children’s Participation. (2011)
Shier, Pathways to Participation: Openings, Opportunities and Obligations. Children & Society 15 (2001)
Roger Hart, Children’s Participation: From Tokenism to Citizenship. UNICEF (1992)
Englundh, Barnets bästa i främsta rummet. Liber (2009)
CRC General Comment No 7.
Implementing child rights in early childhood CRC/GC/2007/7, (2007)
Børn og medier – en undersøgelse af børnehavebørns opfattelser af og brug af tablets og medieplatforme, Børnerådet, (2015)
The Faroe Islands
Les og Lær i Føroyum www.fur.fo (2015)
Kiilakoski et al. Youth participation in Finland and in Germany,
The Finnish Youth Research Network (2010)
MIO’s viden om børn og unge – rapporter og undersøgelser 2004–2014
The report from the project will be published at
Dönnerstad & Sanner, Håndbok for forandrere. Forandringsfabrikken (2006)
Bergman, Queering Sápmi: Samiska berättelser bortanför normen (2013)
Lingegård & Gabriel Skarrie, Föreningsliv som integration,
University of Lund (2015)
Utredningen om samhällsorientering för nyanlända invandrare, 2010, Sverige för nyanlända – Värden, välfärdsstat, vardagsliv. SOU 2010:16, Stockholm
Möller, Integration genom föreningsliv, University of Umeå (2010)
Ungdomspolitiskt program för landskapet Åland, dnr ÅLR 2014/2112, (2014)
Source: Rogert Hart, Children’s Participation: From Tokenism to Citizenship (1992)
Source: Shier, Pathways to Participation: Openings, Opportunities and Obligations. Children & Society 15 (2001)
ISBN 978-92-893-6688-5 (PRINT)
ISBN 978-92-893-6689-2 (PDF)
ISBN 978-92-893-6690-8 (EPUB)
© Nordic Council of Ministers 2020
Layout: Erling Lynder
Cover illustration: SaadiaHussain
Nordic co-operation is one of the world’s most extensive forms of regional collaboration, involving Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland.
Nordic co-operation has firm traditions in politics, economics and culture and plays an important role in European and international forums. The Nordic community strives for a strong Nordic Region in a strong Europe.
Nordic co-operation promotes regional interests and values in a global world. The values shared by the Nordic countries help make the region one of the most innovative and competitive in the world.
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