In a first-ever three-day international colloquium on children and governance, national and international experts and policy makers working in the field of child rights and protection keenly debated the issue of effective and improved governance for children from a child rights perspective.
As 'governance' lies at the core of child rights and protection, the colloquium attempted to address a wide and complex gamut of issues that fall with its purview so that the two critical yet distinct issues of 'children and governance' and children in governance' could be explored in depth and in all their nuances.
The colloquium broadly aimed to: frame a working definition of 'governance for children', assess State accountability and its role in empowering children (or the lack of it), widen the discourse of 'children in governance', evaluate the role of legal instruments and the relevance of international agreements and State compliance to them, and arrive at a consensus on pre-requisites for good governance for children as also on tools and indicators and models to monitor and measure State accountability.
Emphasis was laid on children's right to self-determination; their right to access appropriate protection and provisions and determine the nature and quality of it. It was agreed that children need to be empowered for this and spaces be created where children could represent themselves, participate directly in governance and demand their rights as legitimate citizens.
The personalised interfaces allowed the participants--who included people working on child rights and protection in South Africa, UK, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka and Nepal and from within India--to share experiences, agree upon a set of recommendations (that could help steer the State and the diverse set of groups working in the child rights arena towards good governance for children), and find a collective voice and agenda for future action
The colloquium was also addressed by policy makers and chairpersons of children's commissions in India who spoke at length about the policies and programmes of the State; the milestones reached and the constraints that halt progress in child rights and protection.
Rationale behind the international colloquium
It has been recognised across the world that improved or 'good' governance is a precondition for sustained poverty reduction and a peaceful and stable society. A commonly accepted definition of governance is the way the state exercises its political, economic and administrative power.
The commonly accepted definition of good governance is the way the State exercises its political, economic and administrative power to positive effect. To explain it in simple terms, good governance means that the edifice of the State's institutions and processes is based on the rule of law; is accountable, open, effective and responsive; and gives space to all sections of society for equal and meaningful participation without discriminating on the basis of caste, creed, religion, class, culture, disability, age and gender.
Sound governance is therefore fundamental to children gaining their basic human rights, being treated as citizens, and being protected. Children and governance is essentially about the State recognising children as citizens in their own right, formulating and implementing child-responsive policies (through its executive, legislature and judiciary using a rights-based approach), and aligning its Constitution with the international instrument of UN Convention on the Rights of Children (UNCRC) (to ensure full rights and entitlements to children and also to enable their meaningful and active participation in governance).
In today's globalising world, however, the hold on the underlying tenets of good governance for children is loosening. The needs and rights of this huge demographic group are being increasingly neglected as the States priorities change determined by market and other forces.
Recognition of children as citizens in their own rights is also about understanding their role of children as protagonists. How, and in what varied ways can we put children in the centre of improved governance and realisation of child rights and bring about their effective "participation" in governance, is a question that many nongovernmental organisations as well as governments are grappling with.
Across the world, groups, academia and institutions have been working consistently towards developing tools and mechanisms to assess and monitor State's performance in realising the rights of children. They are also planning and executing interventions to make governance systems more responsive to children's rights and entitlements. An overview of the actions undertaken in these areas so far shows that these include analysis of budgets, monitoring the performance of elected representatives and the judiciary, scanning and...