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Francesco Tonucci: “Children's voice strengthens democracy”

Twenty five years ago, Tonucci created “The city of children”.

Twenty five years ago, Tonucci created “The city of children”.

Anna Novella i Asun Llena run the project “The children’s councils and CNIAC. New ways for the political and civic participation of children in Catalonia”.

Anna Novella i Asun Llena run the project “The children’s councils and CNIAC. New ways for the political and civic participation of children in Catalonia”.

The sixty children and teenager councils that exist in Catalonia are gathered in this book.

The sixty children and teenager councils that exist in Catalonia are gathered in this book.

Jaume Trilla and Francesco Tonucci.

Jaume Trilla and Francesco Tonucci.

Among the 400 registered attendants at the symposium, there were more than 130 children from 24 different councils.

Among the 400 registered attendants at the symposium, there were more than 130 children from 24 different councils.

03/01/2017

Acadèmic

“Mettere i bambini nella politica significa fare una buona politica” (involving kids in politics means making good politics). This is the title the pedagogue Francesco Tonucci chose for his speech in the international symposium “Children and political participation”. This quote is by the Italian politician Livia Turco and summarizes the aim of the meeting: emphasising children participation in politics, spreading its value and distinguish the potential and capacity it can have when influencing political actions in a city.

Francesco Tonucci (Fano, Italy, 1941) is a researcher at the Italian National Research Council. Since 1968, behind the name of Frato, he has drawn several comic strips with the aim of reporting the situation of the traditional school, stuck in obsolete methods. Since 1991, he is head of the international project “The city of children”, which created a network with more than two hundred cities in Italy, Spain and Latin America. Some of his most known books are La ciudad de los niños (1997), La maquinaria escolar (2008), Perill, nens (2012) and Amb ulls de nena (2013).

“Children are free from some determining factors that chain adults, such as money, power, prejudices or public opinion”

Twenty five years ago, Tonucci created “The city of children”, a project built upon two specific focuses: children’s autonomy and children participation in politics.  He leant on the article 12 from the Convention on the Rights of the Child (applied in Italy in 1991), which states that children rights have to be provided when expressing their opinion in all affairs affecting them according to their capacity, and their opinions should be considered according to their age and maturity. “Unlike what most adults think, I am absolutely convinced that a child knows what s/he wants, and is able to do so”, says Tonucci. “Children are neither better nor know more than us, but it is clear that they are different”, he says. He tells this using a quote by Picasso, who visited an exhibition of drawings by children and said he used to draw like Raphael and it was difficult for him to learn how to draw like the other kids. “Children are free from determining factors which chain adults, such as money, power, prejudices or public opinion. Listening to them has an added and emblematic value because it enriches democracy and moreover, children aren’t representing only themselves but also all the people who are outside politics, such as the elderly, the poor, the immigrants…”

Regarding children councils, Tonucci says there are at least three things lacking future challenges he considers to be essential. Firstly, the age of the kids who take part in these organisms should be lowered.  In Catalonia, for instance, in most of the 59 councils established, children are aged between ten and twelve. Secondly, any social actor who treats with children (schools, sport centers, toy libraries, hospitals, museums, civic centers, etc.) should have an organism or structure enabling youngsters’ participation. Last, the appointment should be done by draw instead of voting: “If politics are so wrong, at least the one in my country –the whole auditorium laughs-, why don’t we change the model? I find an election by draw more interesting because then children know beforehand that they don’t have any merit and have to work for it, make an effort to get the position. In addition, this would prevent representatives from being the smartest, bravest or the best orators of the class. Think of the shy ones. Who is representing them at the Parliament?”.

Regarding the support of families and political representatives, Tonucci says that “children are always our allies, this is guaranteed”, and emphasises the complicity of the parents: “The families like the project. The problem is with the authorities. It’s true that they accept the creation of a children council, but it is difficult to get them fulfilling children’s proposals. However, when this happens, when there is a specific proposal and it is accepted and properly carried out, there is a revolution. I remember a 10-year-old child, from Fano, who said he didn’t believe in those councils until he saw they listened to them and took care of the proposals. Since then, the kid felt “responsible” because he had to think properly on what he wanted to propose”.
 

A debate with four voices, unusual and enriching

Among the 400 registered attendants at the symposium –organized by the Group Research of Moral Education (GREM) and the Research Group on Social Pedagogy (GPS) of the University of Barcelona –there were more than 130 children from 24 different councils, apart from politicians, experts and academics from 83 Catalan cities, which brought a big debate very uncommon and enriching. “Because talking about children without them is talking about participation without participation, and the symposium had to break that dynamic and the meeting had to be a place for shared analysis, deliberation, reflection, confrontation and construction to promote political participation of children in cities”, say Asun Llena and Anna Novella, organizers of the symposium.
 

Children participation in politics in Catalonia

Several mayors talked about the experience of having a children council in their cities: Lluïsa Moret (Sant Boi de Llobregat) said they “represent a view on the city which is absolutely different from ours, and is necessary to build public policies that affect them directly”, she highlighted that it is not a consultancy organ but a binding one.  Also, Xavier Codina (Santpedor) said that the children demands don’t have anything in common with the questions made by adults. The mayor of Figueres, Marta Felip, said that “one of the authentic potentialities of these councils is that they are a lesson of democracy”, and Dolors Sabater, the mayor of Badalona, said they add children’s proposals in important decisions for the city.

The sixty children and teenager councils that exist in Catalonia are gathered in the book Infància i participació política. Recull d’experiències de consells d’infants i/o adolescents a Catalunya, created as part of the project. The book has a description of the active councils and the ones that are being built, as well as the opinion of their people who tell what it means for them to be part of these councils.

The symposium was part of the project “The children’s councils and CNIAC. New ways for the political and civic participation of children in Catalonia”, with the support of RecerCaixa (driven by Obra Social “la Caixa” with the collaboration of the Catalan Association of Public Universities, ACUP), the Area of Education of the Barcelona Provincial Council, Direcció General d’Atenció a la infància (general direction for children attention) of the Generalitat de Catalunya and Institut Infància.

 

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