Children’s participation: From tokenism to citizenship

This essay, written by Roger A Hart for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) analyses the research on children in order to demonstrate the benefits of genuine child participation.


"A nation is democratic to the extent that its citizens are involved, particularly at the community level. The confidence and competence to be involved must be gradually acquired through practice. It is for this reason that there should be gradually increasing opportunities for children to participate in any aspiring democracy, and particularly in those nations already convinced that they are democratic. With the growth of children’s rights we are beginning to see an increasing recognition of children’s abilities to speak for themselves. Regrettably, while children’s and youths’ participation does occur in different degrees around the world, it is often exploitative or frivolous. This Essay is written for people who know that young people have something to say but who would like to reflect further on the process. It is also written for those people who have it in their power to assist children in having a voice, but who, unwittingly or not, trivialize their involvement." (Hart 1992)


  • The meaning of children’s participation 5
  • Manipulation and tokenism: models of nonparticipation 9
  • Models of genuine participation 11
  • Research with children 15
  • Play and work: the different realities in industrialized and developing countries 20
  • Children in especially difficult circumstances 24
  • Factors affecting children’s ability to participate 31
  • The benefits of participation 34
  • Where to begin 37


Hart, R. (1992). UNICEF, Children’s Participation: from Tokenism to CitizenshipInnocenti Essays. No. 4. Retrieved from: