Political rights of children put in spotlight

CHILDREN'S participation in decisions that affect them is essential for improved service delivery, the latest South African Child Gauge 2010-11 has revealed.

Released in Cape Town last night, the annual review by the University of Cape Town's Children's Institute put children's political rights in the spotlight and explores ways in which listening to children can also help strengthen democracy and children's development.

The Gauge makes the point that children's right to participation is protected by law and adults have a responsibility to include children in decisions that affect them.

The law also says that professionals like nurses, doctors, social workers and teachers must include children in decisions about their lives.

For example the Children's Act allows children 12 years and older to agree to their own medical treatment - as long as the doctor is satisfied the child is able to understand the decision that he or she is taking.

Doctors and nurses must explain things in a way that even very young children can understand. They must encourage children to ask questions, listen to what children have to say, and take children's views seriously before making decisions. This helps children feel more in control of their lives, and cope better with pain and illness.

"The benefits of this approach should outweigh the accompanying challenges for stressed service providers," said Minette Coetzee, professor of child nursing at UCT.

She said research showed children's participation in healthcare settings could ease staff workloads.