COVID-19 Synthesis - Children's participation

Liselle Finlay Family for Every Child • 2 July 2021

Reference: CPC Learning Network, International Institute for Child Rights and Development, 2020

Please see attached for the full report, or below for an extract and summary of emerging practices and gaps. 


The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted as many as 1.5 billion children worldwide (UNICEF, 2020). Beyond its health dimensions, the pandemic also threatens to impact the realization of the rights of all children. Child participation is one of the core principles of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) and is a key element to understanding the best interests of the child (CPMS Principles 3 and 4). Authentic and meaningful child participation “must start with children and young people themselves, on their own terms, within their own
realities and in pursuit of their own visions, dreams, hopes and concerns” (UNICEF, 2003).

However, this review has revealed that there is little evidence to suggest that children have been adequately engaged as part of the COVID-19
Child Protection (CP) response. Although child participation is one of the three P’s of children’s rights laid out in the CRC - provision, protection and participation - the first two are often given greater priority, particularly during emergencies. In fact, adults’ concerns about children and “young people’s best interests and protection” can, at times, “squeeze out children and young people’s right to participate” (McMellon & Tisdall, 2020). This is a problem because meaningful engagement of children is critical to the design of appropriate and sustainable programs in response to child protection challenges - in this case, those arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

This evidence synthesis analyses emerging practices and preliminary guidance for engaging children in the response to CP challenges during the various stages of COVID-19 and other infectious disease outbreaks (e.g. Ebola). It explores both
barriers and opportunities to the meaningful and authentic participation of children during COVID-19.

Emerging practices

With the safety of all children as a top priority, emerging practices identified include:

  • Engaging children to map their own needs
  • Using innovative approaches to amplify children’s voices
  • Supporting and leveraging pre-existing participatory platforms and initiatives for child-led advocacy and engagement
  • Providing children with the space and opportunities to actively participate in decision-making processes

Summary of gaps

Several gaps in knowledge related to child participation during COVID-19 were
identified, including:

  • Minimal reflection or guidance on appropriate use of different “participatory” approaches (e.g. consultation vs. child-adult partnerships) to meaningfully engage children throughout the various stages of COVID-19 and future IDOs
  • There is also little age disaggregated guidance for engaging children at different developmental stages.
  • Very little discussions or evidence of meaningful partnerships between children and adults regarding the COVID-19 response and recovery.
  • Emphasis on impact of children’s lack of access to new technologies, but little coverage on capacity of aid workers to use technologies and to ensure the safety and security of children and their data.
  • Lack of representation of voices of children from marginalized groups and few reports on the status of the most marginalized children related to participatory programming.
  • Minimal guidance on how to reach out to communities to engage children that were not engaged by other activities or CP actors prior to the lockdowns

Community question: How has your organisation responded the gaps identified?