25 SES 07, Special Call Session B - Inclusion and the Right to Participation
Public and governmental decisions largely exclude children’s consultation and contribution, based on the determining factor of age alone. We acknowledge children as political beings with rights to participation in the public sphere (Kulynych, 2001). By “involving children from a very early age in the organisation of the world in which they live, their repertoire of behavioural capabilities grows” (DeWinter, 1997, p. 163), thus producing and enacting lived civic education. Yet, the default position in social and political theory is to disregard children altogether or to consider them as learner citizens (e.g., see Qvortrup, 2003; Bühler-Niederberger, 2010). “Children and youth are almost entirely without genuine political and economic influence”, and are in effect “equated with the stateless, nationality less, criminal and mentally ill” (Milne, 2013, p. 27). The 1989 United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) includes children’s political rights to take part in the conduct of affairs in relation to matters affecting them, to peaceful assembly and freedom of association with others. Further it is necessary to assert that children are people too, and so also have these political rights enshrined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (1948), United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007). State signatories to these international legal instruments are obliged to respect, protect and fulfill human rights (United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, 2018). Social and cultural rights are more readily accepted for children, with children’s political rights less likely embedded in national social policies (Lundy, Kilkelly, Byrne & Kang, 2012).
Recent decades have witnessed increased empirical and policy interest in children’s citizenship, though authorised policy and practice support for children’s citizenship is hindered through widespread circulation of recurring discourses that construct children as innocent, and developing (Phillips, 2010), position childhood as free from responsibility (Higonnet, 1998) and thereby deny children a participatory role in the political sphere (Such & Walker, 2005). In addition, a narrow perception of citizenship as a legal status or nation-state membership prevails, limiting participation to the legislated convention of voting, from which children are excluded.
By foregrounding children’s political rights, we position children as citizens, and define citizenship as socio-political practice (Isin & Turner, 2002; Lister, 2007). Such a definition of citizenship raises issues of equity, as it “places the concept squarely in the debate of inequality… because citizenship is necessarily and inevitably bound up with the problem of unequal distribution of resources in society” (Turner, 1993, p. 32). Redress of the inequality that children experience due to their reduced inclusion of participation in public consultation, debate and decision-making, is acknowledged in a socio-political definition of citizenship.
Given the social and theoretical trends of excluding or reducing children’s political participation, we wondered to what quantifiable degree there was public support for children’s political participation and if such had previously been measured. In 2012, the UN Interagency Network on Youth Development surveyed 13,000 respondents across 186 countries, with the majority highlighting that the main challenges for youth (15-24 year olds) were limited opportunities for effective participation in decision-making processes (United Nations Development Programme, n.d). Evidence of children’s political exclusion is clear, though evidence of the degree of public support for children’s political participation to the best of our knowledge had not been surveyed in our respective nations. Policy makers respond, to some extent, to the policy preferences of citizens (e.g., see Burstein, 1998), so we sought to survey public opinion for children’s political participation as a potential means to influence social policy change for children’s political participation.
To do this we commissioned a likert scale question on degrees of support for children and youth (3-18 year olds) having the opportunity to influence government decisions, to the Australian and New Zealand 2016 versions of the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) (a cross-national collaboration programme that annual surveys public opinion on different social science topics each year). This was the first time in the 33 year history of the ISSP that a question that positions children as citizens was included in the survey, previous child related questions on the ISSP base survey focused on parental needs and concerns for their children as dependents. By asking such a question in the ISSP challenges dominant social constructions of children as dependents to include children as citizens, in a research programme that claims to be a leading example of globalization in social-science research and professes to follow principles of equality and inclusiveness (Smith, 2010, 2015). A random sample of electoral enrollees completed the survey of 71 questions in the 2016 AuSSA (1,146 Australian respondents) and 33 questions in the 2016 NZAVS (1,264 New Zealand respondents). Respondents were asked to select their degree of agreement on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 'strongly disagree' (1) to 'strongly agree' (5), and to provide separate responses for different age groups: children aged 3 to 5 years, 6 to 10 years, 11 to 14 years, and 15 to 18 years. We constructed dichotomous versions of these variables in which response options 4 and 5 are taken as being indicative of ‘support’, whereas response options 1-3 are taken as being indicative of ‘no support’. We analysed survey responses to our question in relation to demographic survey data, by considering a range of socio-demographic variables as potential predictors of individual attitudes towards children having opportunities to influence government decisions. These include dummy variables (the absence or presence of a category) of respondents’ self-reported gender, age group, highest educational qualification; birth origin, Indigeneity, religion, children in household, and income level. We also considered the role of political party preferences, based on respondent indication of which major party they voted for in the respective nation’s last general election. By seeking public opinion on children having influence on government decisions and analysing the data in relation to socio-demographic variables, some predictors of supporters and non-supporters were identified. This assists to further understand social factors at play prohibiting children’s political participation.
Key socio-demographic variables of significance for both nations were children’s age group, along with gender, and qualifications of respondents. Few respondents agreed that young children should have opportunities to influence government decisions, rates of agreement increased linearly with age, with most respondents holding the view that adolescents age 15-18 should have the means to do so. Women in both nations were more supportive of children being able to influence government decisions than men, irrespective of the age of the child. University-educated individuals were more likely to support influence by children aged 15-18. In Australia, other variables that indicated significant difference were that Australian-born individuals, were significantly less likely to support influence in government decisions by children age 3-5 than non-Australian-born individuals, those who identified with a faith were significantly less likely to support children age 3-5 influencing government decisions. In New Zealand, respondents who identified as Māori (Indigenous) were significantly and substantially more likely to express support for children age 3-5 and age 6-10 influencing government decisions. On examination of the variable of political party preference, the magnitude of the odds ratios across all of the models was generally large (particularly for the Australian sample), suggesting that political views were an important factor structuring attitudes towards children influencing government decisions. Those who voted for the Green political party in both countries were the strongest supporters of children across all age groups influencing government decisions. These indicators of support for children’s political participation provide data to influence policy makers to follow citizenry preference, as well as identify socio-demographic groups to target public education programs on children’s political rights and capabilities. The ISSP with 45 member countries (29 of which are European nations), offers a potential means for further national surveying to influence societies towards the cultivation of intergenerational political participation.
Bühler-Niederberger, D. (2010). Introduction: Childhood sociology – defining the state of the art and ensuring reflection. Current Sociology, 58(2), 155-164. Burstein, P. (1998). Bringing the public back in: Should sociologists consider the impact of public opinion on public policy?’, Social Forces, 77, 27–62. DeWinter, M. (1997). Children as fellow citizens: Participation and commitment. Abingdon: Radcliffe Medical Press. Higonnet, A. (1998). Pictures of innocence: The history and crisis of ideal childhood. London: Thames & Hudson. Isin, E., & Turner, B. (2002). Citizenship studies: An introduction. In E. Isin & B. Turner (Eds.), Handbook of citizenship studies (pp. 1-10). London: Sage. Kulynych, J. (2001). No playing the public sphere: Democratic theory and the exclusion of children. Social theory and practice, 27(2), 231-265. Lister, R. (2007). Why citizenship: Where, when and how children? Theoretical inquiries in Law, 8(2), 693-718. Lundy, L., Kilkelly, U., Byrne, B., & Kang, J. (2012). The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: A study of legal implementation in 12 countries. Retrieved from http://www.unicef.org.uk/Documents/Publications/UNICEFUK_2012CRCimplementationreport%20FINAL%20PDF%20version.pdf Milne, B. (2013). The history and the theory of children’s citizenship in contemporary societies. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer. Phillips, L. (2010). Social justice storytelling and young children's active citizenship. Discourse: Studies in the cultural politics of education, 31(3), 363-376. Qvortrup, J. (2003). Editorial: An established field, or a breakthrough still pending? Childhood, 10(4), 395-400. Smith, T.W. (2010). The globalization of survey research. In J. Harkness, M. Braun, B. Edwards, T. Johnson, L.E. Lyberg, P.P. Mohler, B-E. Pennell, T.W. Smith (Eds). Survey methods in multinational, multiregional and multicultural contexts (Ch.25), New York: John Wiley. Smith, T.W. (2015). International Social Survey Programme. In J.D. Wright (Ed.) International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences (2nd edn) (pp.550-556). Amsterdam: Elsevier. Such, E., & Walker, R. (2005). Young citizens or policy objects? Children in the ‘rights and responsibilities’ debate. Journal of Social Policy, 34(39-571). United Nations General Assembly. (1989). Convention on the rights of the child. New York: United Nations Retrieved from http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CRC.aspx United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, (2018). International human rights law. Retrieved from http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/InternationalLaw.aspx United Nations Development Programme. (n.d). Youth, political participation and decision-making. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/documents/youth/fact-sheets/youth-political-participation.pdf Turner, B. (1993). Citizenship and social theory. London: Sage.
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