Today, the ‘Day to End Racial Discrimination’, you may be asking yourself about how discrimination affects your community, the work that you do, or even your own interactions with others. These are important questions to ask, though the answers are often difficult and complex. As part of an on-going research project, we’ve recently been reaching out to communities to understand discrimination in local contexts and have found that children have important insights into the nature of discrimination faced by themselves and others in their communities.
Children’s voices are scarcely heard in international debates, by national policy-makers, and often even in their own homes and schools. Their silence in matters that affect them is troubling, not least because they have hopes, opinions and needs that rarely get heard, but also because children are incredibly astute observers of things happening around them and can offer sound judgements on challenges being faced in their communities as well as creative solutions to those challenges.
On recent visits to Tanzania and Indonesia as part of a project to develop approaches and tools to identify children that are most affected by social exclusion (contributing to Save the Children’s wider efforts to support implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals’ pledge to Leave No One Behind) I had the opportunity to hear from children about their own perceptions of discrimination in their communities. Despite being an advocate for children’s participation in decision-making for some time, I have to admit I was quite taken aback by children’s insightful and nuanced perceptions of such a complex issue as exclusion. I dare say many children were more open and communicative about the issue than their parents, teachers and community leaders.
This research project aims to take a step back and ask ourselves anew: which children are excluded from fulfilling their rights to health, education and protection on the basis of who they are and where they live? Alongside available data and consultations with practitioners in Tanzania and Indonesia, our two pilot countries, we have been speaking with hundreds of girls and boys about the forms of discrimination they have observed in their own communities and the ways in which children are excluded from the fulfilment of their rights.
Through these discussions with children it has become very apparent that they are not only conscious of different forms of discrimination around them, but their understanding of the drivers of exclusion and possible solutions are very insightful. For example, a group of secondary school-aged boys in Tanzania noted gender bias as a key driver of girls’ exclusion from decision-making about their own lives. When asked to identify possible solutions, one boy put forward the suggestion of more women in parliament to raise the profile of girls’ issues and to model girls’ empowerment.
Another feature of children’s perspectives on exclusion in their communities is how open and unreserved their perceptions appear to be. When we asked participants to identify different groups of children who might experience exclusion, discussions with children tended to reveal more than discussions with parents and teachers. Moreover, one-on-one interviews with excluded children revealed detailed and informative aspects of exclusion that adults seemed less comfortable discussing. For example, a boy who had recently dropped out of school in Indonesia revealed that bullying he experienced from his teacher on the basis of his cultural practices had led to his dropping out. Whereas others in the community may have seen his dropping out of school as a lack of motivation, he explained that he actually wants to be a teacher when he grows up and he expressed deep sadness that he may not get that opportunity.
Having worked on issues related to discrimination and exclusion for a number of years and being reminded time and time again how complex these issues are, my main take-away from discussing these topics with children is fairly simple. If you want to understand more about the discrimination and exclusion faced by children, a good place to start is by asking them directly.