Dar es Salaam. Children’s right to be heard – or the right to participate – is one of the core rights of children. The United Nations Convention on the rights of the child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (AC) both protect this right, and Tanzania has ratified these two important international instruments. The Tanzanian Law of the Child Act 2009 recognises that children have the right to participate in all decisions concerning them.
In accordance, the Tanzanian government has shown its commitment to institutionalise child participation in governance by creating the Junior Council at national level.
The government has also undertaken to extend the councils to lower administrative levels around the country. This legislative and policy position has not been, however, matched by an equally committed implementation, although efforts are currently underway to draft a national strategy on child participation
Further to that, making the right for children to participate effective has proved to be challenging because of the deep-seated views held by adults with regards to the low or limited status and capacity of children.
The recent study conducted by Koshuma Mtengeti and Meda Couzens for REPOA, focuses on the participation of child-led organisations – children’s councils supported by Save the Children – in local government processes.
The objectives were to establish how the children’s councils function, whether they engage with local authorities, what has been the impact of such engagement, and what factors facilitate or inhibit such collaboration.
Focus group interviews took place with members of children’s councils in three research sites: Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar and Lindi
According to the authors, the ways in which the three children’s councils were created varied; in Lindi and Zanzibar the government contributed to the process whilst in Temeke Dar es Salaam, the government became involved after formulation of the council.
They discovered that although initiated by adults, the children’s councils are child-run organisations and children have taken full ownership of the councils.
The study shows that the children’s councils do not have permanent funding and they fundraise for each activity.
The most consistent source of funding has been Save the Children. Local authorities have also supported the councils financially, but on an inconsistent basis arguing the lack of available funds.
The study indicates that children identified adults as significant actors in the functioning of the councils. The adults have four main roles, namely partners, advisors, supporters and gatekeepers. The most significant adult role for the functioning of the councils is played by the councils’ guardians. Depending on the status achieved by the councils, the guardian is appointed by the local government or is elected by children.
Despite several positive aspects regarding the appointment of the guardians, the study revealed some children’s concerns that some guardians lack interest in the councils, as well as a lack of accountability mechanisms for the guardians which resulted in abuse of power on occasion.
“The impact of the children’s councils is important and explain that the councils made children’s problems more visible at local government level through their lobbying and advocacy,” argue Mr Mtengeti and Mr Couzens.
The study indicates several factors that help of hinder the collaboration between the councils and local authorities.Amongst the factors facilitating the collaboration between councils and local authorities in the availability of financial and moral support from NGOs; a good relationship between children and high-ranking district officials; the positive attitude towards citizen’s participation by officials, the commitment of local officials to create the councils; and local governments taking responsibility for children’s issues.
The findings of the study show that among the factors inhibiting the collaboration between children’s councils and the local governments are lack of funds; lack of political will to allocate a budget for child participation (‘high-ranking officials tend to ignore it’); and the attitude of adults (both parents and officials) which tends to equate child assertiveness with unruly and irresponsible behaviour.
According to the study, the participants interviewed called for a better understanding by the children’s councils of the role of the local government and its functions regarding the accommodation of child participation; education in children’s rights for parents and community members; for the councils to be invited to contribute to adult local government meetings; and increasing opportunities for children and officials to work together.
Mr Mtengeti and Mr Couzens suggest that
“In order to acquire sufficient leverage at local level, the councils need to establish closer ties with higher ranking officials who have the power to drive the development process and raise the profile of the councils,” suggest Mr Mtengeti and Mr Couzens.
In their recommendations, the authors further urged local and central governments to enhance the understanding of children’s rights by local government officials, parents and communities; undertake an assessment of local government powers concerning children in order to establish which decisions should involve children; create mechanisms for involving children in decision making that affects them at local level, and ensure that children have sufficient access to information.
Their recommendations for children’s councils are for the councils to develop follow-up mechanisms so that the outcome of the children’s contribution is monitored, and to create links with senior local officials where such links do not exist, in order to influence decisions at the local level and promote the prioritisation of children’s interests, including child participation.
The authors suggest that all stakeholders should work towards obtaining a balance between the involvement of the adults in the functioning of the councils and the independence of the councils.