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Reddy & Ratna's 'Scenarios of Adult-Children Engagement'

1. Active resistance: There are adults who actively resist children's participation. Such adults can be divided into categories. Some of them feel that children should not be burdened with having to participate. Some believe that children do not have the capacity to participate and hence cannot make informed choices. Some hold the view that children are very easy to manipulate and that their participation might therefore be used only to further adult agendas. Some adults in this category take very strong positions against children's participation and actually mobilise support and lobby against it. They do so because they are acutely aware of the power of children's participation and do not want to forfeit their own power.  

2. Hindrance: There are adults who hinder children's participation. Some of them may be against children's participation and they may put themselves in the way of children's participation either overtly or covertly. They block opportunities for children and discourage children from participating. There are others in this category who may voice their support for children's participation, but the manner in which they interact with children may actually hinder children's participation. They may intentionally or unintentionally undermine the children's confidence and end up making children feel inadequate and reluctant to participate. 

3. Manipulation: There are adults who manipulate children. Some adults in this scenario use children to further their own agendas. They may coach children to voice what they want or cleverly interpret what children say or do to suit their own interests. Sometimes their manipulation is very obvious, but often it can be quite subtle and be done in ways children find very difficult to discern, let alone counteract. There are other adults who manipulate children in order to ‘get the best performance' out of them and, according to the adults, this is done in their best interests. Sometimes manipulation takes on emotional overtones as children often have emotional ties with the adults they interact with closely. Manipulation is a very subtle and sensitive area. This critique has been often used to discredit children's participation. Even the best child facilitators can end up manipulating children unintentionally and unconsciously. The only way to guard against this is to be constantly vigilant.

4. Decoration: There are adults who treat children more or less like decorative objects, who basically expect them to add colour to the proceedings. Children are asked to present bouquets or sing songs – and not much else is made of their presence.

5. Tokenism: There are adults who pretend that children have been given opportunities to participate in order to earn goodwill from their presence. The adults may not manipulate children to speak on their behalf, yet they do ‘use' the presence of children in order to be counted as ‘advocates of children's rights' and to be politically correct.

6. Tolerance: There are adults who bear with the notion of children's participation simply because some one higher up (e.g. a donor agency) thinks it is important. In some cases, children themselves may have demanded to be listened to. Adults then go through some consultative exercises with children but do not place any value on the process or the outcome.

7. Indulgence: There are adults who find children's participation ‘cute' and ‘interesting' and who  provide a limited space for children in which to voice their opinions. They keep prompting children to speak up and they try to keep the environment child friendly.  They may listen to the opinions expressed by children with interest, but they do not make any serious attempt to follow up on their suggestions. These are mostly one time events and very little comes out of such ‘participation'.

8. Children assigned but informed: There are adults who work with children with some seriousness. The adults in this category decide on what needs to be done, but they keep children well informed. They encourage children to be actively involved in the activities. They will guide children to implement the task, but do not expect children to contribute to the design of the process.

9. Children consulted and informed: Some adults believe in consulting children and keeping them involved. The adults take the leading role but inform the children about the situation and seek their opinion. They try to give children a sense of ownership over some aspects of the process, but under their supervision. The adults are still in control over the process, but they keep it flexible to incorporate the suggestions and concerns of the children.

10. Adult initiated, shared decisions with children: There are adults who initiate a process or a programme, but are clearly willing to share decision making with the children. They see it as a collaborative interaction. Even though the adults initiate the process, they make it a joint effort. Children and adults may take on different roles, but the roles are defined by mutual consent.

11. Children – initiated, shared decisions with adults: Children and their organisations call the first shot and invite adults to collaborate with them. Children ensure that adults are jointly involved in deciding what needs to be done and share the ownership of the process and the outcome. Within the collaboration, children and adults may take on different roles, but the roles are defined by mutual consent.

12. Children initiated and directed: Children and their organisations are in total control and they may or may not involve the adults. If they do decide to involve the adults, they will work out the framework in which the adults are to participate. Children will continue to keep the process under their control and will have the total ownership of the process and the outcome. 

13. Jointly initiated and directed by children and adults: Adults and children have developed a partnership and they jointly initiate and direct the processes. They have joint ownership of the idea, the process and the outcome. They may play different roles, based on mutual consent. This relationship is possible only when both the adults and children are empowered and are able to pool their respective strengths to achieve a common objective, in partnership with each other1.

Discussion pointer

  • In terms of the extent and nature of child and youth participation, how would you describe the activities that you currently support? Use  the scenarios above as a point of reference.

[1] From "The Child and Youth Network - Participation seminar 2004" Original from: Reddy, N. & K. Ratna (eds.) (2002) A Journey in Children's Participation, The Concerned for Working Children, Bangalore, India.