Children's voices across borders: European Meeting on Child Participation
Children from Europe share their opinions on participation, mental health or education at a meeting within the framework of the Spanish Presidency of the European Commission
The Madrid municipality of Alcalá de Henares has welcomed a meeting on childhood and adolescence, held within the framework of the events planned by the Government of Spain as European Presidency.
The objective of the meeting, which took place from September 29 to October 1, was to position the voice of children and adolescents at European level. It was led by the General Directorate of Children's Rights of the Ministry of Social Rights and Agenda 2030, with the support of UNICEF Spain and the Children's Platform.
Before the event, an advisory group of 17 European children have worked together around the issues that the government is promoting these during its European presidency: participation, mental health, protection and education. In the summer months, a participatory survey for children and adolescents was launched around these issues, which has served as a working basis for the face-to-face event.
About thirty boys and girls from ten different European countries (France, Malta, Ireland, Germany, Luxembourg, Czech Republic, Portugal, Poland, Austria and Spain) participated in the meeting.
The Spanish delegation was composed of four representatives of the State Council for Child and Adolescent Participation, two from the participation group of the Children's Platform (EPIC) and six from the advisory group of UNICEF Spain (Víctor, Daniel, Irene, Ailin, Patricia and Carla).
On Friday "we all arrived at different times, we all went to the University of Alcalá, and at 16:30 p.m. the opening ceremony began," says Irene, from the UNICEF Spain advisory group and the local council of Teo (Galicia), one of the participating girls. She adds that, after the presentation, the Minister of Social Rights and Agenda 2030 of the Government of Spain, Ione Belarra, gave a "very interesting" speech on participation.
"Throughout my life I have heard many times those adults who do not want things to change say that these things 'have always been done this way'", Belarra said to children during the opening: "When you hear that something 'all life has been done like this' as an excuse not to change, I ask you not to believe it and to work decisively to transform what you believe in."
Ana Gallego, representative of the European Commission, intervened to highlight the importance of hearing the voices of the youngest: "We want to make the participation of our children and young people a reality in our democracy."
The second day was the working day, as Ailin, also from the advisory group and the council of Puerto del Rosario (Canarias), says. "We worked on issues such as participation, safety and mental health, giving our opinions and what we considered gaps or needs in those aspects," he says. "Each group then focused on one theme. My group on the topic of education. We learned a lot about education in other countries, putting the ideas of all the classmates, proposing topics that we then developed, and we did a gymkhana with groups of children and adults."
Finally, "We presented our work in front of Director General for children in Spain, a Representative of the European Commission and a Representative of the Belgian government," says Daniel, from the advisory group of UNICEF Spain and the council of Meco (Madrid). "While they were taking note, we explained to them the topics we had worked on all weekend. We explained in a fun and dynamic way what we had worked on." To do this, the different groups used powerpoints, videos, examples or banners. "All the groups did super well, we made it clear what we wanted and needed," says Ailin.
"The political representatives were attentive, listening and taking note. They have really taken us into account."
The exhibition was attended by Leander Price, Head of Division - Belgium EU Presidency for Culture, Youth and Media (Flemish Department of Culture, Youth and Media of Belgium), the Director-General for Children's and Adolescents' Rights Lucia Losoviz and Marie-Cécile Rouillon, Children's Rights Coordinator of the European Commission.
"Everything went very well. After the presentations they asked us questions, we answered them and they made an intervention, talking about how it was important that we were there and confirming they had carefully listened to us" says Daniel. "They were attentive, listening and taking note, they asked us very interesting questions. They have really taken us into account and it is something that is appreciated a lot," agrees Ailin.
They worked on a manifesto that collects all those ideas, says Daniel. "I think that step by step we are achieving great things, projects and things that will gradually make the world better. I am very proud to have participated," he adds.
What children propose
The Children's Advisory Council has worked and generated a document of recommendations for children to the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Topics that the advisory board has addressed are safety, education, mental health, participation; proposals made on those and more information can be found on the article produced by UNICEF Spain (in Spanish).