Beyond Tokenism Conference, Dunblane, December 2003

Trond Waage's Presentation

My Job

My job is to monitor the shadow side of society, divorce, cancer, health. I am monitoring 360° of childhood in Norway and it’s not easy. You can talk to the Ministers but its not their sector, the Minister of Education is only for education, the Minister of Health is only for health so we have to work with a holistic approach, which gives us some different perspectives on childhood.

The ‘Not Yet’ Generation

I remember when I was working for UNICEF in China all the ministers said “children represent the future” and I was trying to say “they are also part of the present”, but no, no, no, “they are part of the future”. Then in the 20th century the laws of social control, protection and compulsory education, socialization theories came. The consequences of this new attitude towards children is that they are excluded from the world and placed in waiting rooms - called schools. In Norway its for 13 years, 13 years in the waiting room that’s enormous. What a challenge and what a responsibility to me as a teacher, or a head teacher or as an ombudsman for children. Children change from being the property of the parents to the property of the State because some States find that they are the ones who have to protect and this process makes them objects in societies struggle for the future ideal community. But if you ask the kids themselves today all the research on participation in Europe says, from the kids mouths “we are the not yet human beings”, we are not yet adult, not yet able to do, not yet responsible, not yet, not yet!

Peer Pressure

In Norway we don’t have school uniforms like you have here, but we have one of the most expensive uniforms in the world because you must have the latest… like this one! Have you seen this it’s a mobile phone pocket! If you don’t have that, you are out. And she fully agreed with me, and she said daddy, I see the difficulties that you are facing, that you feel you are losing social controls but dad I am the only one in my class who doesn’t have a mobile phone. I don’t know which pizza bars or coffee bars or cinemas they go into on Thursdays and Fridays - and then the final card. Do you want me to be socially excluded? No dad wants their kids to be socially excluded. And of course the commercial industry have found out how to deal with this.

The UN Convention

Modern childhood, the UN Conventions on the Rights of the Child, mentioned earlier, which is a unique document ratified by 192 countries in the world, except one country in the UN, the United States. Reflected by the changes in society, its moral and political attitudes, it’s a holistic view on children and highly respective that children are people therefore they are entitled to all human rights. And I think, and I have seen since I have been working internationally on children’s issues since the beginning of the 80’s that the conventions are redefining, globally, our views on what childhood is and it’s primarily a proactive document, not reactive. Though in debate, also what is happening now in England, some of the parliamentarians want to incorporate fully the Conventions which we have done in Norway after a strong fight between the Government and Ombudsman. Now it’s in, the parliament passed legislation so from the 1st October 2004 its fully incorporated, which means its Law in Norway. It is a strong legislation, but it is not only a legislative document, it’s also a political and social document and we have to remember that. So we don’t move all cases into the courtroom and child welfare will be defined by exercises in the courtroom by lawyers. It should be everyone’s responsibility to develop a good child policy and child welfare system.

So the Child’s Rights generation, if you go into the Convention, consists of the three P’s, Protection, Participation and Provision and if you go into the Geneva document websites and see all the reports coming from States, they always start with protection and then they go to provision and then, maybe, if they have time, money and space they say something about participation. As if that’s the way we should think, but the Convention says completely different and that’s the platform for my work as an ombudsman. That is it should be seen as a dynamic process, that you have protection, provision and participation interacting with each other. The best way of protection is of course participation.

Give Children the Responsibility

So in the same way, when it comes to the educational system we have big reform in Norway now but children are not being asked. I asked the Education Minister, how can you do this? You will never ever manage to go through with this reform in practice, it will all the paperwork if children are not involved in the planning. I know because I have hundreds of phone calls and letters about the education system from 8 years, 9 years, 10 years, who are their, eager and willing to change and be a part of the education system. And the Convention has Article 12, you know, the participation article it is called and when we asked children about participation they say they have a fresh and different perspective in all that. But also it contributes to identity development, self esteem, empowerment and remember it is our lives you are talking about, they say. So give us the space, give us some responsibility and we will produce. They also have an agenda for development. In Norway we have 429 principalities around the country which are very much independent from the State more and more and half of these principalities see children as a problem and expensive. Now we are starting to change that because we are working in child friendly communities. The children are an investment and children are possibilities. But as long as we have the image of the child which is negative, born evil and continues as evil until its 18 and married we will never change anything. So the ultimate goal is, from the CRC perspective is that children will actually be exercising from that, to exercise their rights not only receiving them and that includes acting responsibly and not being ignored and not struggling in powerlessness.

School Councils

So we have the school council in Norway and they say, many of them, they are not taken seriously by the teacher. It is by law, it’s not in England and I don’t know about here, but it is law in Norway that every school from fourth grade has to have a school council. So they have full election and all that. Its very well organised and it deals with minor issues, such as what kind of thing should be served in the canteen. There’s lack of time for council activity, low status among the students and no real power. Which means it could be quite the opposite but it is a threat against democracy to run school councils like this, it is! Real participation means influence on planning, internally and externally. It means being a focal part of the reform process, it means more responsibility regarding the learning process from the teacher. That they also want not the traditional teacher but they also want a supervisor to be a part. And also involved more in the school management, you know, the budgets and everything as you have in some of the schools here in Scotland.

Internet Parliament for Pupils

So we set up something called the Internet Parliament. It had up to 25 schools but its now 50 schools generally from all over Norway and its to the school councils who are a member of it and they have a special key to go into the room, an electronic key. And they do have debate, and they have voting on different issues, very often on hearing processes from the government. Should homosexuals be allowed to adopt a child - why not ask the kids? We did. Whatever comes up. Asylum seekers, how to treat them. When it comes to home and participation this can also be a threat. What, when and where children should eat or play, is mostly decided by parents. Children are told, instructed, they are forced to obey the rules, regulations. Most of the do’s and don’t are not proceeded by adequate explanation. I think this is some time we have passed. It’s all the latest from the research in Switzerland. I was in Switzerland a few weeks ago, organised by UNICEF and they put forward research which was undertaken on children’s participation. They concluded, the most important place children participate most is in the home. I think it’s the same in Norway and Scandinavia, so they are a winning area because you have changed the attitude and image of the child. Modern parents today are in a time of transition. Parents want the best for their child, they demand quality from school, health, public, private. I can see all the letters and phone calls from parents in my office where they stand on their child’s rights or children’s rights in general. So they are strong advocators for childhood in Norway.

Bullying in Norway

There are around 60,000 kids every year who are being bullied in Norwegian schools. This is some of the things coming from kids during the 23 years we have had the Children’s Ombudsman’s office. So we went through, and tried to find out what has been done and we had meetings with children all over the country. They said, the time of random complaints must be over. We must create something which can be anchored in the culture, deeply rooted. They said that we have to strengthen the school democracy, increasing children’s as well as parent’s participation in school. And we need leadership. This is not something I as a child should solve, yes conflict with equal power I can solve. We have conflict mediation programs in Norway and also Scotland, which are functioning well.

National Manifesto Against Bullying

In Norway we can talk about dildos, orgasm and whatever but not bullying. Because it is seen as a social shame if your child is being bullied. So how can we get this out in the open to talk about it. We did it and we had to get legislation in place. So I received a marching order from 60,000 kids in Norway. Trond - stop it now! So I identified the strongest in Norway who have power and I asked them to sign a manifesto against bullying. The teacher union, they hesitated for two weeks when we had a massive meeting. The biggest parents organisation in Norway and the one representing the ownership of the principalities for schools. And I asked the Prime Minister, are you willing to go on this? But you have to read what it says because it said that bullying in Norwegian schools, within two years, should be history. And they signed - they felt trapped, they said afterwards because they could not say that in the meeting. And now its been one year and two months and its been an enormous activity. Every principality has now signed up, commitment and its about leadership. We have produced millions of different types of courses for teachers, mayors and local politicians so that they can be involved in seeing the child, not only inside the school but also outside the schools, and also parents. But most of all we managed to get the legislation in place after a fight with parliament went very close to and managed to get the legislation in, an extra article in legislation of education saying that you give the child an individual right to have a good learning environment, which means physically and psychologically. It passed in parliament on 1st April this year combined with that it was fully integrated with the Conventions on Human Rights in October this year, so the legislation is now in place and it is a strong instrument. And I believe that we are going to manage it, we are going to do it.

Giving Adults Ears

Children have voices, an enormous amount of voices, it's about giving adults and parents ears.

A Better World for Children

Children in Norway will within 15 years and 8 months have a vote from birth for parliament and everything. Just now 25% of the population of Norway don’t have a vote. They will have one. Not because of the Ombudsman, but because of the parents. They are pressing forward changes. Therefore you will have a completely different policy. Also in Scotland, because in Scotland, Norway we said was 15 years and 8 months, Scotland will be 10 years and 11 months you will have a vote. Is that in agreement, right, you will have that?

The child friendly vision, childhood is not a disease that will pass, childhood lasts a lifetime. So, thank you very much for all the hard work you are doing for creating a better world for children.