“No one has ever asked what we think,” one child answered in the first survey of Young Voices, a project that was developed by Save the Children Sweden and has now been exported to several other countries, including Mongolia, Kosovo and Lithuania. Through innovative communication and advocacy activities, the project aims to make sure that duty-bearers hear the voices of young people and children.
Photo: Evan Schuurman - Save the Children
Bayarsaikhan, 12, at home in Khairkhan district in central Mongolia.
Article 12 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, states that children have the right to be heard and have the right to freedom of expression. However, many children are still not included in discussions about issues that affect them. In 2011, Save the Children Sweden’s Member’s movement took the initiative to carry out a national survey in order to collect the views of Swedish young people and children. The project was called Ung röst (Young Voices) and the idea was that children themselves best know their situation and hold the key to change, and that decision-makers who make decisions about children need more knowledge. The surveys were carried out again in 2014 and have proven to be a powerful tool in the dialogue with politicians and other decision-makers.
The idea spread to other countries and in 2016 the international branch of the project, Young Voices, was started. The survey targeted children ages 12, 14 and 16, and asked questions about safety, violence, costs in schools, children’s possibility to participate et cetera.
The first country to complete Young Voices was Kosovo in 2016. Mongolia and Lithuania followed in 2017 and more surveys are currently underway in Armenia, Jordan, Albania and Peru.
Photo: Save the Children - Mongolia
Great attention in Mongolian media and among politicians, when young people presented the results from the Young Voices-Mongolia surveys.
“We cooperated with the schools where the surveys took place and later on where the complementing interviews were made,” says Tsolmon Enhkbat, who coordinates programs for Save the Children International at the office in Mongolia.
However, it was not easy to get permission from the schools.
“The directors of the schools wanted to read the questions that we would ask the children before they gave us permission. Some schools refused after having read the questions. They didn’t think it was appropriate and they didn’t like that we asked questions about the schools. The schools that finally gave us their permission were promised that we would not mention the name of the school,” explains Tsolmon Enkhbat.
In Mongolia, migrant children and children from ethnic minorities are especially vulnerable. Save the Children works to ensure that migrant children and children from ethnic minorities have the same rights as other children in the country.
Around 80-90 percent of the questions in the surveys follow a set template, making it possible to compare the results from the different countries.
“The surveys are followed-up by focus groups where young people give their views, quotes and solutions to the issues: it makes the reports more alive and this is what actually makes it Young Voices,” says Barbara Voors, project manager of Young Voices in Sweden.
Short films with key messages have also been made, often with the help of young people themselves. Children, not only in Mongolia, but also in Lithuania and Kosovo, express that they want more influence and more opportunities to affect issues concerning them.
“I want to grow up faster, because I want to be heard,” child, Lithuania (Young Voices – Lithuania)
“They ask us, they consult us, but they never do what we tell them they should do,” child, Kosovo (Young Voices – Kosovo)
The results show many other common denominations among children and young people. Regardless of origin and nationality, children feel that adults do not listen to them, many are forced to witness violence, and many are concerned about their family’s economic situation. Still, most of them do have a positive view of the future.
“The conditions for children in Sweden differ in comparison to other countries, but in essence they are the same,” says Barbara Voors.
Each country can adjust the questions to that country’s specific context.
“In Jordan, for example, they added a question about early marriage,” she continues.
According to Tsalmon Enkhbat, Mongolian children seldom get the opportunity to voice their concerns.
“Almost 88 percent of the children said they do not have any opportunities to express their views to the decision-makers. [About as many] did not know where to go if they need psychological help.”
A 15 year old boy from Young Voices – Mongolia stated:
“In reality, adults do not believe that a child’s opinion might be right. Without, at least, talking to us on issues relevant to us and listening to our point of view, they tend to decide based on their own childhood experiences. We do get information outside of our studies and understand and feel different aspects of life. Although we need to consult with adults when evaluating information, drawing conclusions and deriving lessons, they tend to ignore us.”
The results from the survey are presented to decision-makers and media during events in respective countries where also children and young people participate. In Mongolia, the Young Voices report is an important advocacy tool that will be used in meetings with social services and public administration in Ulan Baator.
“We often talk about young people’s views and participation, but when children themselves are participating during the presentation of the results, it all becomes more convincing. They may tell the politicians and the media directly, ‘our reality looks like this, not like you thought’,” says Barbara Voors.
To read all the Young Voices surveys, please visit this link.