Fostering the right to participation: children's involvement in Vietnam's poverty reduction policy process

Abstract

The importance of community participation in development policy decisions has gained increasing international recognition in the last decade. Most notably, participation is now included as a core assessment criterion in the World Bank and IMF-led Poverty Reduction Strategy process to which all low-income countries are party. During the same period, the value of children's participation in decisions that impact on their lives and that of their communities has also gained more attention. The UN General Assembly's Special Session on Children in 2002 (including the national and regional processes leading up to the final meeting) highlighted children's right to voice their views and be heard as enshrined in article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

However, while a growing body of analysis has emerged assessing children's involvement in, for example, school governance, child workers' movements, and children's clubs and networks, to date there have been relatively few systematic assessments of the impact of children's participation on policy change. There is still a dearth of knowledge about the factors that facilitate or hinder the translation of children's voices into not only improved discursive practices, but more child-sensitive policy and decision-making and programme implementation, in different political and economic contexts. In order to contribute to this important debate, this paper focuses on initiatives to promote children's participation at various points in Vietnam's national poverty reduction policy process.

Vietnam is an interesting case for several reasons: since the initiation of economic reform (Doi Moi) in the mid-1980s, the government has been praised for its successful poverty reduction achievements and rewarded with strong donor support. Moreover, Communist Party official documents and national laws alike are committed to the fulfillment of children's rights. Although national leaders have rejected pressures to move towards a Western liberal model of party democracy, in 2005 an ambitious nationwide consultation process around the governments overarching Socio-Economic Development Plan (2006-2010) was launched from the grassroots level upwards to collate views about the government's planned policy direction. Young Lives, an international policy research project on childhood poverty in Vietnam, was involved in this process as part of the INGO coalition that implemented the consultation in tandem with the Ministry of Planning and Investment and local government authorities. This paper's central objective is to reflect on the nature and impact of children's participation in this new political space. It pays particular attention to the contribution that children's involvement can have in breaking poverty cycles (both life-course and inter-generational poverty transmissions).

Section 1 begins with a discussion on some theoretical literature on participation, poverty and rights, as well as international experiences of children's participation in policy processes. It pays particular attention to the challenges that have been identified in ensuring children's meaningful and sustainable participation. Section 2 uses this framework to discuss Young Lives' multi-pronged strategy to involve Vietnamese children in poverty reduction debates and processes. The final section concludes with lessons learned and recommended future steps in Vietnam. It also includes more general reflections on the potential of children's right to participation to shape broader state-civil society interactions and remould definitions and practices of citizenship.

Citation

Nguyen Thi Thanh Thuy; Nguyen Minh Hanh; Jones, N. Fostering the right to participation: children’s involvement in Vietnam’s poverty reduction policy process. Presented at XVI ISA World Congress of Sociology, Durban, South Africa, 23-29 July 2006. (2006)

Fostering the right to participation: children’s involvement in Vietnam’s poverty reduction policy process

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