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Peers and Partners: Empowering Children To Take Civic Action and Engage in Open Government

Tor HodenfieldandUlrika Cilliers|

In 2015, 264 million primary and secondary age children and youth were out of school. In 2016, 5.6 million children died before their fifth birthday, mostly from preventable causes and treatable diseases. In 2015, it was estimated that close to 1,7 billion children had experienced inter-personal violence in a previous year.


To ensure that all children survive, thrive and learn, we need open, inclusive and accountable governments to deliver quality services to children, including to the most deprived and marginalized children. To help ensure that services are of the highest quality, adults and children also need real opportunities to take civic action and influence policy-making and service delivery.

Children, who constitute more than 30 per cent of the world’s population, know what helps them access services, and what hinders them. Children are the main users of many social services and can provide feedback on the quality and adequacy of the services provided. Children often bring new insights about their situation and provide creative solutions to difficult circumstances.

A majority of children that Save the Children engages with from different regions, backgrounds, genders and age groups are clear that they want to be involved in decision-making on issues that affect them and contribute positively to the development of their societies.


The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by almost all countries in the world, provides children below the age of 18 with the right to take civic action and participate in public policy-making. Yet children often have severely limited opportunities to be heard, organise, access information, take action and engage with policy-makers. Data from the CIVICUS Monitor shows that only two per cent of the world’s population live in a country where the space for civil society is open, a pre-requisite for proper participation in policy-making. As discussed in the joint paper by CIVICUS and Save the Children ‘Peers and Partners: Empowering Children to Take Civic Action’, restrictions in civil society space affect children as much as adults. In addition, children face specific challenges due to their legal or cultural status as children.  For example, a study conducted by Save the Children and the Centre for Children’s Rights at Queen’s University with 1.600 children from 60 countries found that:


  • Only 34 per cent of the children who answered an online survey felt safe expressing their views in public.

  • Only 38 per cent of the children who answered an online survey felt safe joining a public protest or demonstration.

  • Children need improved access to the internet and child-friendly information.

  • Children need better opportunities to come together to learn about their rights, discuss issues of interest and take joint action.

  • Children want closer connection with government structures, particularly at local levels.

  • Many adults do not take children seriously when they engage in civic action to achieve change. However, when children have the support of adults they are better able to act and be heard.

A benchmark test of whether OGP members are ensuring people-centered open government should therefore be whether children’s rights to take civic action and influence policy priorities and the delivery of quality services are being realised. To achieve this, we encourage OGP members to include specific commitments to children in their national plans of action, including commitments to:

  • Put in place and implement laws that guarantee the rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly, expression and access to information – online and offline – for children as well as adults, including by removing legal and administrative obstacles against children establishing their own organisations.

  • Provide age-appropriate and timely public information in languages and formats that children understand.

  • Establish and resource child-friendly, inclusive and safe permanent mechanisms and spaces where children can engage meaningfully with decision-makers and make recommendations on laws, polices, budgets and service provision.

  • Systematically promote the importance of children’s participation in public processes, address negative attitudes towards children, and build the capacity of government officials and state employees to engage meaningfully with children.   

To strengthen people’s trust in government institutions, children must not be a blind spot for policy-makers. Governments need to involve children as peers and partners, listen to them, respond to their needs and rights and provide meaningful and safe opportunities for them to engage.


For more information, please contact:
Tor Hodenfield, UN Adviser and Vuka! Secretariat Coalition Coordinator, CIVICUS,,  
Ulrika Cilliers, Head of Advocacy, Child Rights Governance Global Theme, Save the Children,,  





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