|Guidelines for Children's Participation in HIV/AIDS Programs (The Children and AIDS International Non-Government Organization Network (CAINN)) (UNAIDS, 1999, 29 p.)|
Only children and young people themselves can tell us what it means for them to live in a world with AIDS. The challenge is to work with them in a way that respects their views and gives them the freedom to participate on their own terms. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is a holistic set of standards for children and young people (see annex). The Convention provides the principles and framework for working with children and young people, including privacy, confidentiality, the role of the family, health and development. In particular, the Convention highlights the right of the child to participate (Article 12), suggesting that participation brings benefits for children and young people themselves and also the programs which encourage them to participate.
Building self-esteem and developing skills
By participating, children and young people have the opportunity to develop skills and confidence in areas which will benefit them and their communities. Through participation, children and young people learn about co-operation, mutual understanding and social responsibility. They may become better informed and equipped with new skills in communication and in thinking which will prepare them for adult life. When children and young people are better informed they are more able and likely to make decisions about their life for themselves. By meeting other youth in similar situations, they can give each other emotional support and realise that they are not alone.
Programmes that are designed by adults to help children and young people may not always provide them with what they most need. Encouraging the participation of children and young people in the development of programmes is most likely to ensure that they are child-centered. Children and young people need to be involved in designing, monitoring and evaluating programmes.
Raising public awareness
Hearing what children and young people have to say often gives adults new insight into their wishes and needs, and provides relevant information about the activities and plans that can be undertaken to meet them. Greater public understanding may lead to changes in public policies and give youth more protection from prejudice. In addition, children and young people speaking for themselves may raise the profile of programmes and secure additional funding or other benefits. One large non-governmental organization (NGO) working with children in Southern Africa reported that the Government made financial contributions to children's projects and some children were given exemptions from educational fees, following their participation in World AIDS Campaign activities.
Changing public opinion using drama, poetry and song
In Zambia when an adult dies, it is accepted that other relatives take the property of the dead person, often leaving the children without support. In order to draw attention to the consequences for them, children described their experiences in drama, poems, songs and panels and were able to express themselves in a culturally acceptable manner.
"The emphasis was on the distress faced by the child, and not on the cause of the parents death because a child in distress is a child in distress, the cause of the distress is not of primary concern."
Family Health Trust, Zambia 1998.