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close this bookGuidelines for Children's Participation in HIV/AIDS Programs (The Children and AIDS International Non-Government Organization Network (CAINN)) (UNAIDS, 1999, 29 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAcknowledgements
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentWhy Children and Young People Should Participate
View the documentMeeting the Challenge
View the documentWays Children and Young People Can Participate
View the documentDoing It Better
View the documentAnnex - The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: Participation and the World AIDS Campaign
View the documentChildren and AIDS International NGO Network (CAINN)

Ways Children and Young People Can Participate

Participation should be a long-term process which is continually reviewed and adapted to meet changing needs. Where participation is viewed as a long-term process, rather than a single event, the results are more likely to be long lasting. Participation can take many different forms and there are different degrees of involvement which can be likened to the steps of a ladder, ranging from the superficial involvement of children and young people up to an equal partnership (as outlined in Figure 1).

Figure 1: How children and young people can be involved

Children can be involved in many different ways and to different degrees.

Assigned but informed
Adults decide how children are involved and fully explain to children the reasons for their involvement.

Consulted and informed
Projects can be designed and run by adults who consult and inform children.

Adult initiated
Projects can be initiated by adults, but decisions shared with children.

Child initiated
Children and young people can initiate and set up projects themselves.

Equal partnerships
Children or young people may come up with ideas and set up projects with advice and support from adults.

Manipulation and decoration
Adults can use children to promote a project or cause, though the children have little idea of what they are involved in.

Children may be involved but do not decide the means or subject of their involvement.

NOTE: it is important that programs avoid manipulation and decoration, where adults use children to promote a cause, or tokenism, where children may be involved but do not decide the means or subject of their involvement.

Based on Hart. R (1992) Children's Participation: From Tokenism to Citizenship, Florence, International Child Development Centre, UNICEF.

Projects should be interesting and fun for children and young people. At the outset children and young people themselves should decide the ways that they wish to be involved and how they want to communicate their views, experiences and needs. Children and young people should be partners from the start, with projects working with them, not just for them. Children and young people can explore creative solutions to problems that they consider to be important.


In the Philippines, a group of youth facilitators/peer counsellors was approached by the organizers of the World AIDS Campaign 1998 and requested to formulate a concept paper on the programme for the World AIDS Day launch. When the youth submitted their proposal, a lengthy discussion took place with the organizers whether the event should be held in a local community setting (the youth's proposal) or in a shopping center. Everyone agreed to the proposal of the youths and preliminary arrangements were made with the community identified for the launching, Soon after, a notice was sent out by the Launch organizers announcing that the World AIDS Day launch would be held in a local, upperclass mall, a very different concept from the original plan.

This occurrence is an example of "tokenism". The youth felt that it was not only a violation of their participation rights but a clear manifestation that there is no clear cut definition of the concept of a 'child's participation'. They had been invited to participate but not consulted when there were changes made.

Below are examples of ways that children of different ages can be involved as groups or as individuals. All programmes should aim to empower children and increase their self-esteem. The most appropriate way will depend on the purpose of participation and the views of the children. Is the purpose, for example:

· To help individual children understand more about HIV and AIDS and to cope better?

· To find out what help and services children and young people would like?

· To raise awareness of children's views and overcome public prejudice about HIV/AIDS?

Helping individual children and young people

There are many different ways of helping children and young people understand and come to terms with HIV and how it affects their lives.

Writing and pictures

Children and young people can present their ideas and experiences in writing or in pictures.

· Poetry: children and young people can express their feelings in poems, often more easily than in other writing.

· Story-telling and writing: children and young people can write about their experiences or a topic. It may help to invite them to write on a theme such as their family, their fears, or their community.

· Pictures and art: for example, children and young people can use art to express the feelings of loss and reaction to sickness. Art that the children and young people have prepared previously could be displayed.

Hong Kong 'Healthy Young Ambassadors Scheme'

"In the Hong Kong AIDS Foundation, we have a special scheme targeted at young people called the 'Healthy Young Ambassador Scheme. This scheme aims at training up young people as peer educators on AIDS. The scheme has been very successful in attracting students studying in Universities in Hong Kong and they have now become an independent group which plans for their own education programs and advises the Foundation on youth programs. "

Hong Kong AIDS Foundation

On World AIDS Day 1997, the Hong Kong AIDS Foundation organized a territory wide coloring and drawing competition which attracted more than 3500 entries. Through drawing and coloring children expressed their thoughts on HIV/AIDS and demonstrated their willingness to accept people with HIV/AIDS. Parents reviewed that they learned a lot from the children through this campaign.

Social activities

Children and young people can have fun and make friends through social activities

· Clubs: in Zambia Anti-AIDS Clubs have been set up in many schools around the country. These enable children and young people to identify and decide their own ways of participating.

· Games: can bring children and young people together and allow them to interact and work together.

· Workshops and discussion groups: questions can be used to get discussions going. Questions can examine attitudes as well as knowledge and lead to suggestions in how to change attitudes and behaviour.

Drama and music

Children and young people can express themselves in movement and act out their feelings or experiences.

· Dance & mime: children and young people can express their experiences and communicate their feelings.

· Role play and drama: children and young people can create a drama to re-enact their experiences in real life or to communicate a message or point of view.

· Songs and music: children and young people can compose their own songs or lyrics to new or familiar tunes.

· Living sculptures: either in a group or alone, children can create 'living sculpture' with their own bodies of a particular event, feeling or emotion. This activity often works very well as a group and encourages co-operation.

· Puppets: children and young people can make up plays using puppets, which they may find easier because it is more anonymous. This method has been found to be useful when working with children who have been sexually abused.

Expressing oneself in a safe environment

Orphans in a rural community in the Southern Province of Zambia showed that children are happy to perform plays, compose and sing songs about HIV and AIDS, Since they are integrated into the community and feel supported by the community at grass-roots level, they feel loved, accepted and happy.

Finding out children and young people's views

In planning and developing programmes for children and young people, it is essential to talk to the participants themselves. This can be carried out in a variety of ways and can actually be done by the children.

Discussions and surveys:

· Brainstorming: all ideas are invited and discussed.

· Workshops, residential meetings, activity holidays, focus and discussion groups can create a safe environment for discussion. Children and young people themselves can conduct these groups and invite adults along to participate.

· Interviews and surveys: Children and young people can conduct the interviews themselves or self-completion questionnaires can be anonymous. Children and young people need to be involved in writing the questions.

Raising public awareness

Raising public awareness of what HIV and AIDS mean for children and young people is important, but it can put children and young people at risk of exposure. If children and young people undertake activities that identify them as living with HIV, their identity should be protected at all times.

· Testimonies, drama and demonstrations to the community, peers or family: can communicate important information and highlight issues of concern to the listeners.

· Children and young people can attend conferences and events: a group who have prepared a presentation together beforehand, can participate together and support each other after the event. Adults are needed to support children and young people in these activities not only by providing opportunities and support for their preparatory work but also by working for their inclusion as participants in conferences and events where they have traditionally been excluded or only included in a tokenistic manner.

· Children and young people's stories, poetry and pictures can be published in newspapers and newsletters. These do not have to be anonymous although if the child desires them to be so their wishes must be respected.

· T.V. and radio interviews: if anonymity is required by the children or young people participating then provision must be made for this, in the case of television a back view could be used and voices could be disguised or replaced by an actor. Where anonymity is not required the participants need to be fully aware of the possible implications.

Young people living with HIV in Africa

At the 1995 International Conference on AIDS in Marrakech, Africa, a delegation of youths from 11 countries issued a declaration of their needs and priorities.

"We strongly believe that our energy, idealism and commitment can be used to stop the further spread of the AIDS epidemic that is devastating the social and economic fabric of our countries".

Where this is the attitude, children and youth can help to change things for the better.

Involving all young people in France

Sol en Si is an agency working in France and Africa with families who are living with HIV. In 1997 it arranged a national conference for young people, advertising through town councils, schools and clubs for projects around prevention, disease, solidarity and HIV/AIDS in Africa. 350 children, aged from 6 years to 20, came to the conference and publicly presented their work. 40 groups prepared projects for the conference which included arranging social events, drawings and writings, videos, music, singing and drama.

The agency concluded that children were practical and innovative. They suggest that local authorities, national bodies and trans-national organizations can profitably involve children in making policy, especially in regard to children themselves.