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We must be guided by children’s opinions

“Who was looking for quotes?” Hafsat, 17, from Nigeria, had come over to ask as I talked with a colleague at a meeting of Save the Children’s Global Children Panel in London this week.

This young woman doesn’t miss a thing – least of all an opportunity – and she’d quickly got wind of the fact that I was at the meeting as a member of the communications team, to get a sense of how the panel’s week in London was going.

A Save the Children Global Children's Panel meeting
Sipho explains some of the issues at the meeting (Hafsat sits behind him, on the right)

“Here’s my quote,” Hafsat told me, pausing until she was sure I was ready to write it down word for word. “‘He who wears the shoes knows where it itches.’ If your shoes are hurting you, I’m not going to know that unless I ask you. In other words if you’re working with children, you have to ask them for their opinions.”

And when you put it like that, it’s hard to argue. How can we truly make things better for children unless we listen to what they really need?

Getting to the root of the issues

The Global Children’s Panel is a group of 12 young people from around the world, voted representatives by their peers, who work with us to influence high-level decision-making within the organisation, hold us to account, and raise issues important to children globally.

At this meeting, the panel members – Rahim and Anila from Bangladesh, Neider and Maria from Colombia, Hafsat and Kalu from Nigeria, Stefanie and Tia from Scotland, Sipho and Mapaseka from South Africa and Nia and Michael from Wales – tackled the issues they thought were most important through a series of short performances.

They explored the question ‘what stops children fulfilling their potential’ and covered themes around poverty, health, livelihoods and violence. Their characters struggled with problems as diverse as the cost of going to school (finding hidden costs even in ‘free’ education), nutrition and teaching practice in the UK, alcohol and drug abuse, and domestic violence.

Clear message

It was a huge amount to cover in a couple of hours but one clear message was that we can only get the a deep understanding of the problems children are facing by listening to them. And, as Sipho, from South Africa, explained, you have to go deep to get to the heart of the problem: “When you want to cut down a tree, you have to get to the roots. If you cut through the middle it will just grow back.”

I’ve met the panel members during their week of meetings and workshops in London for the past three years now. It’s always an incredibly busy, intense week for them – and productive they always have clear messages and important objectives for us by the end of their time here. It’s up to us to hear them, and act on them.

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