Child participation is always important, but especially during times of emergency and crisis. When acting quickly and responding to a situation, it can be easy to take the quicker approach by deciding the actions needed without the true participation of those you are trying to support. This undermines young people's own agency.
At Toybox, we believe it is of fundamental importance to raise the voices of street-connected children and youth. Children have a right to be listened to and taken seriously and should be given the tools to express their opinion about decisions affecting their lives (Article 12, UNCRC).
Street connected children feel invisible; many are not counted in national census', nor have ID cards, and are typically marginalised in society.
However, by providing the right platform, their voice - captured through videos, photos and drawings they have created themselves - is more direct, stronger and more meaningful than us speaking for them. This all results in a greater chance of people listening, taking notice, and doing something about it. Also, the process they have gone through to do this themselves has helped to express their own emotions and situation, and can support to build confidence and skills.
Effective child participation can only be achieved when safeguarding and ethical protocols are in place and observed. Safeguarding is of the utmost priority for Toybox and our partners. For this activity, we gave clear simple guidance to our partners to follow when asking children and youth if they would like to participate and supporting them to do so. For example, we told them not to say their name, and if filming or taking a photo of someone else, only to show back of their head and to ensure there is nothing in the background which would show their location. Where faces are shown, this is with full consent of the young person.
Not only do we want to raise awareness about the difficulties of this unique situation during Covid-19 for street-connected children across the world, but also advocate for the continued need to promote true child participation.
It is our responsibility to work with young people in a way which supports them to feel part of the response aimed to assist them, not just subjected to it.
Children are likely to be significantly marked by this pandemic, especially impacting their health from hunger, mental health, and economic situation, and it will have an effect for years to come. So, it is even more vital to raise their voice and agency now, so they feel they are actively part of raising awareness with the aim to create change that affects their own lives. At a time when this pandemic is exacerbating vulnerabilities and they feel even more invisible and forgotten, it is more important to encourage true agency of these children and youth.
We need to support street-connected children and youth to have agency and a voice now more than ever.