Keywords: United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – Article 12 – right to be heard – participation rights – child’s views – family
International efforts to ensure compliance with Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, giving every child the right to be heard in all matters affecting him or her, are bearing fruit. In many domestic legal systems, there has been considerable progress in securing the participation rights of children and young people in shaping wider policy, law and practice and in the context of administrative and judicial decisions. For children, decisions taken on a day-to-day basis within their own families often have an immediate – and sometimes an enduring – impact on their lives. It would be ironic, then, if children’s voices were heard less in the private sphere of the family than they are in the public sphere.
This article addresses the child’s voice in the family setting, exploring the benefits of listening to children and young people and the obstacles to doing so. It considers the mechanisms by which children’s participation rights can be secured in that setting and, using the lens of the Finnish, South African and Scottish experiences, examines whether legislative provisions requiring parents and other caregivers to listen to children are effective. It concludes that cultural norms play a larger part in influencing behaviour than legislation and that legislation alone may not be enough, particularly where it is at odds with deep-seated cultural values.