On November 19, I conducted the workshop "Power to the Children" together with Christoph Kutzer, head of Youth Participation at the Office for Future Affairs, State of Vorarlberg. We had a far-travelled visit from Edwin John and Joseph Rathinam from the Indian Children's Organisation for Participation and Empowerment. They are the ambassadors, initiators and trainers for a political movement of the so-called children's and neighbourhood parliaments. After the screening of the film "Power to the Children", we conducted two parallel workshops - one for adults and one for teenagers.
Edwin told the class of the Neue Mittelschule Kirchdorf how children's parliaments are created and how they themselves can found them. Joseph worked with the adults from community politics, open youth work, process support and youth organisations on the potential and challenges of transferring the model of children's parliaments from India to Vorarlberg.
What are Children's Parliaments?
Gnanasekar Dhanapal - national prime minister of the Children's parliaments, explains:
More answerse were conducted during the workshop with Joseph.
An extract from the documentation of the workshop (by Christoph Kutzer, translated by Lisa Praeg):
Why and for what purpose are local children's parliaments founded?
Children learn a lot at school, but not everything they need to achieve an active, fulfilling life. Knowledge also comes from experience in doing things together. Children's parliaments offer a good framework for gaining experience and learning to shape their own living environment. In the process, skills are developed which are needed to solve problems. Children master challenges and have to persevere when things get difficult. Children experience themselves as effective and gain confidence in themselves and their fellow human beings. The concrete changes in the living environment are manifold and range from the global to the personal level.
What impact do Local Children's Parliaments have?
In children's parliaments, children learn to contribute to the solution of their problems themselves. They learn how to form groups and how to facilitate these groups themselves. Many examples prove the effectiveness of the parliaments. Children's parliaments in India get children out of illegal employment or help children from the neighbourhood to go to school. Garbage is reduced or used, trees are planted, people with alcohol or violence problems receive help to improve their behaviour. Especially in Africa, Latin America and Asia, children's parliaments are increasingly used. On a global level, this movement - in cooperation with the United Nations - is setting an unmistakable signal for the observance of children's rights.
How do the local children's parliaments interact with the system?
The children's parliaments are not formally linked to the constituted democratic system in India. Especially on the local level, the connections to politics and authorities are important for the children to get help in solving their problems. In many places, children receive support. This, however, depends on the persons acting and is not legally enshrined.
How did the Children's Parliaments Movement come into life?
In the 1970s, a neighbourhood parliament was founded by Edwin John. This initiative spread over the decades in South India (Tamil Nadu) and other regions. As it was recognized that a new culture in politics was needed, which could be created primarily through the activation of young people, the impetus for children's parliaments was given. The idea did not originate from children.
How are local children's parliaments created?
In many cases, adults provide the impulse and retreat into a supporting role once the parliament is constituted. Parliaments belong to the children. Adults are allowed to observe and can get involved when children give them the floor. However, continuous adult supervision is necessary to keep children's parliaments stable. In clarifying tasks and areas of responsibility, learning facilitation techniques and financing projects, adults are always needed to provide support. Teachers are trained to accompany pupils in becoming active in their neighbourhoods. Community workers are trained to help the children solve problems. A facilitation training enables the children to moderate their meetings themselves and to develop solutions together. Children meet and talk about what needs to change to create a better life for all. All children become ministers for one of the topics that is seen as relevant. After the children have been elected to their respective offices, they will be sworn in by e.g. the local council in an appreciative manner.
You find more information on the indian platform of children's parliament.
How are children's parliaments financed?
The children's parliaments usually need little or no money for their projects. The necessary funds are often raised by collecting donations. The costs for adult support are covered by the schools and the communities. Time is also donated by volunteers from the neighbourhoods.
How are children's parliaments structured?
Children's parliaments consist of 12 to 30 children between the ages of 6 and 18 from the close neighbourhood. All children have specific areas of responsibility and take turns in chairing sessions. In weekly meetings problems are discussed, measures are developed and decided upon. Action plans help to implement solutions, which are checked and reflected upon at follow-up meetings. Elections are held at the meetings to appoint "ministers" for topic areas. Elections are held using sociocratic methods. Anyone can be re-elected or removed from office by parliament at any time if there are reasons to do so. Sociocratic decisions are also made on issues of content.
How are sociocratic elections held - Quick overview:
1. Define role and task 2. Consent on the role description 3. Fill in the nomination sheet - who is best suited for the role? 4. First round of discussion - hear reasons why is this person suited for the role? 5. Second opinion - because opinions can change 6. Formulating the nomination proposal 7. Decide on a selection proposal - incorporate objections 8. Finish the election - Take a deep breath and celebrate 8. Reflect on the election - insights for next time
Detailed overview here.
Which Roles do children and Adults take over?
Children are responsible for the topics and the implementation. Each child bears responsibility for a topic as a "minister". The tasks of the "ministers" are defined together. The organisation and management of the meetings as well as the planning of measures is also in the hands of the children. Adults help to bring the children's parliament together and find solutions to problems. It is important here that the children's parliaments and their activities are not instrumentalised by adults for their purposes. Hidden intentions of institutions (e.g. securing acceptance for projects, image improvement, member recruitment...) can have a negative impact on children's trust in democracy and their willingness to get involved.
How can Children's Parliaments be started through Schools?
Children are divided into groups in the schools, each of which brings together 30 children from the close neighbourhood. Under the guidance of trained teachers, topics are defined and ministries are opened. Then ministers are elected and praised. Each teacher supports one or more neighborhoods in setting up children's parliaments. Children are enabled to lead the sessions through a moderation training. Each child has the chance to take over the facilitation. Older teenagers support children in this.
How long does it take to establish a children's parliament?
The training sessions with different groups (children, teachers, community workers) last a total of about five days. The structure of the respective children's parliament depends above all on the network of the accompanying person(s). If there is already a relationship of trust with parents, children and the community, it is much easier to invite them to found a children's parliament. If there are no contacts and relationships, these must be established through discussions. This preparation can take several weeks, but is essential for a good start and the stability of the Children's Parliament.
How are children's parliaments connected (on Regional
In India, children's parliaments have developed parliaments from the neighbourhoods into the municipalities, regions, states to the national level. The next higher level is elected from the lower level and never consists of more than 30 people. A global children's parliament is also being sought together with the United Nations.
How do trainings for children's parliaments work?
Two days are used for training teachers and two days for training social workers in communities. One day is needed for facilitation training with children. After the first meeting of the children, the children's parliaments are sworn in. Then the children start the thematic work.
How can these trainings be initiated?
For all those interested in training, there is an exchange and networking group for the coordination of training in Europe at https://community.soziokratiezentrum.org. Create an account, join the group "Neighborhood- and Children Parliaments" and say hello. If you have any problems, feel free to contact me. Dirketer contact with "Childrens Parliament": Joseph Rathinam: +919444141032, firstname.lastname@example.org, https://ncnworld.org/. The "Handbook for Animators" can be found HERE.
Thank you, Joseph Rathinam, Christoph Kutzer und Edwin John
for this collaboration - live inDornbirn, it was a pleasure!
POTENTIAL & challenges FOR CHILD PARLIAMENTS IN VORARLBERG from the perspective of the participants
Extract from the documentation, text by Christoph Kutzer (translation by Lisa Praeg):
It is essential that forms of participation cannot be transferred one-to-one from one continent to other continents. The starting point, the needs of the children and actors on site and the support possibilities through institutions are essential for a good connection of participation to the living environment of the participants. Children's parliaments contain impulses which can also be applied in Vorarlberg, but are not considered directly compatible by the participants of the workshop. Some impulses are inspiring and can be taken up.
The problem situations of children in Vorarlberg differ from those of Indian children. For example, the existential basic provision and school education in Vorarlberg are secured by public institutions. The protection of children from violence and support in the face of social challenges (poverty, illness and drug problems in the family environment ...) are also pronounced in Vorarlberg. This suggests that the distress of children and their families is less. The need for help to help themselves is estimated to be relatively lower compared to the childrens situation in India. It is assumed that the interest of children in participating in children's parliaments in Vorarlberg is not very high.
This is also related to the fact that many children are already involved in several leisure activities and are therefore very busy. The assumption that children in Vorarlberg have little connection to neighbourhoods is questioned by a "social space analysis" conducted by the city of Bregenz. Here young people state that 90% of their leisure time is spent in the direct neighbourhood and that they also go on excursions in the neighbourhood. This could be a starting point for new forms of child and youth participation in Vorarlberg.
A further impulse lies in the distribution of responsibility for content and organisation. In children's and youth committees, tasks and responsibilities can be concentrated on a few people. This leads to problems in the execution of the activities, in mobilisation of participants and endangers the existence of the offer of participation in unicipalities and regions. The definition of areas of responsibility and the choice of responsible is seen as an opportunity to deal with this problem effectively. The age range from 6 to 18 is critically reflected. In Vorarlberg, children and young people are generally not invited to the same formats. In India the experience has been made that the children are built up by the young people in order to be able to take on more responsibility themselves later on.
The full report can be downloaded here (German Version only).
Additional ~ POTENTIAL & challenges FOR CHILD PARLIAMENTS IN VORARLBERG
from my personal view
Which of you knows your neighbors? And who of you talks to your neighbours about how the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) can be achieved together in the neighbourhood? I don't - yet.
What essential things would the children and young people learn if they were organised in such parliaments? Would this put an end to the endless demands on the school, that the children should still learn this and that in school? When I reflect with children and young people after they have experienced the sociocratic decision-making process, they are happy, satisfied and proud that they have found solutions together, without arguing. That is - in my perspective - basiclly what it is all about, learning how to find solutions in this complex world, solutions that are shared by everyone. Be it for seemingly small problems or even global challenges. Let's start in the close environment and continue into other areas.
I see the challenge clearly in how the children and young people can take time for this in addition to school and the "stress" of leisure time and how all children and young people from the neighbourhood can get together at the same time.
Film - Power to the Children
A documentary film with the rating "highly recommended" is the film "POWER TO THE CHILDREN" by Anna Kersting. Children in India take their lives into their own hands. They found children's parliaments for their rights. From a children's perspective, the film tells of challenges and actions in a world that expects children to follow the example of adults. But these children are taking a new path - with determination, courage, perseverance and creativity.
When thoughts and ideas arise on the question: "What are the starting points for child and youth participation in our community/region/organisation? The visit of Edwin John and Joseph Rathinam was made possible by the Sociocracy Centre Austria and the province of Vorarlberg. Thank you for this!
May a solidary, sustainable and political culture of collaboration rise up!