Adults in Charge: The limits of formal child participatory processes for societal transformation

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book


The Convention on the Rights of Child was supposed to represent a turning point in depictions and perceptions of children in international law and social policy. In particular, the Convention took the position that children were rights-holders who have views and ideas about their own lives and have a right to genuine participation in decision-making affecting them. Its centrality to the Convention is evidenced by the fact that the concept of child participation is included not only within the body of the Convention, but also as one of its four guiding principles. However, despite the vision behind the Convention and the excitement that the participation principle evoked around the world at the time of its adoption, it was, from the outset, limiting in its capacity for genuine transformational impact. This is primarily due to the fact that while the Convention foregrounds the importance of children’s views and involvement in decision-making, it also ensures that adults remain in control in deciding the terms relating to who participates, how they participate, the topics on which they participate and ultimately, the outcome of participatory initiatives. Thus, in this way, the control of children’s participation rights is firmly handed to the management of adults. As a result, what emerges within the Convention is a persisting understanding of children’s rights as being a gift of adults which they then give to children—whether this gift is linked to children’s care and protection rights or their participation rights. This limitation surely then raises questions about the extent to which the Convention actually represents a genuine shift from earlier human rights law and social policies which explicitly depicted children as objects of rights. Therefore, this chapter seeks to critically examine the extent to which the Convention and its attendant initiatives and policies around the world focusing on child participation represents not only a genuine shift in depictions of children within international law, but also a framework for the achievement of transformational impact. This assessment, which will focus on the language and concepts articulated in the Convention and the practices it has inspired, will reveal the limitations associated and inherent within dominant understandings of child participation. Instead, the chapter will call for the need to look outside this dominant child participation framework in search for examples of genuine transformative child participation. An example of the transformative impact of what may be considered non-CRC-framed children’s participation is provided through an analysis of the role of children in the struggle to end apartheid in late twentieth century South Africa. It will finally discuss the implications of such examples of children participating and transforming their society—either independently from adults or with adults—for dominant child participation and children’s rights discourses.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Politics of Children’s Rights and Representation
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
ISBN (Print)978-3-031-04479-3
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Mar 2023

Structured keywords

  • SPS Children and Families Research Centre


Dive into the research topics of 'Adults in Charge: The limits of formal child participatory processes for societal transformation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this