Partners Bulgaria

Children and Young People’s political participation through student councils in Bulgaria

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Bulgaria’s existing efforts to involve children and young people in decision-making are fragmented. Small initiatives are being undertaken all over the country with no clear long-term strategy or coordination. There are no mechanisms to promote consistency, sustainability, or adaptation of best practices. To help address this issue, Partners Bulgaria Foundation launched a new project in November 2012, “Promoting Child Participation Through Strengthening the Role of Student Councils at School, Municipal, Regional, and National Level” in partnership with UNICEF Bulgaria and the State Agency for Child Protection. PBF has worked for many years to empower children, from helping establish rehabilitation centers and accessible classrooms for disabled children, to guiding children living in state institutions in their transition to independent life and employment as they get older.

Citizens participation, including participation of children and young people is a central tenet of PBF and the entire Partners Network. People should have the right to participate in decisions that affect them and this is especially true for children, because they need to learn the skills of active citizenship from an early age.

Partners Bulgaria facilitated the creation of students’ councils across the country which is a 4-level structure of child participation in the decision making process including at municipality and regional levels. Being counselors at municipal or regional governance structures allows young people to interfere at policy level and insist on more child friendly and people friendly regulations and practices including in areas as sport, ecology, health, combating discrimination of the “different”, education and art etc.

An ongoing dialogue has already been enhanced between children and representatives of school, municipal and regional state institutions. More and more students are beginning to express and defend their opinion, convincing the adults that they also have an important role in the decision making processes. During the past 2 years we witnessed examples of true child participation provoked by the children’s ideas and wishes: a “green room” outside the school building where students can enjoy non-formal education and extracurricular activities; questionnaires designed by children to study the needs and interests of their peers from the community they live in; addressing important issues such as the lack of sport playgrounds and proper lightning in some of their hometowns to the local authorities.

The project strengthened the capacity of children to participate in decision-making processes that affect them. It also increased awareness of children’s rights among the public. By working across levels, from individual schools, to municipalities, and up to the national level, the initiative helped stimulate an important dialogue between stakeholders of different generations about child participation.

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