Colloquium Nothing about children without children!

The importance of child participation in children’s studies was top of the agenda at a colloquium held on 25th September at the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC)’s Headquarters in Cape Town.  

Titled, “Nothing about children without children: Elucidating children’s voices about the violence crisis”, the colloquium was co-hosted by the SAMRC’s Violence, Injury and Peace Research Unit (VIPRU) in collaboration with the Transdisciplinary African Psychologies Programme in the Institute for Social and Health Sciences (ISHS) at the University of South Africa (UNISA) and the Department of the Premier of the Western Cape Province.

With the objective to discuss the relevance of children’s studies, this one-day colloquium attracted the attendance of children’s rights activists, researchers in the field of children’s studies from various institutions of higher education, educational psychologists, and representatives from children’s protection services. Importantly, the colloquium was also attended by a cohort of child representatives from diverse advocacy organisations such as the Nelson Mandela Children’s Parliament, Congress of South African Students, Junior Commissioner for the South African Police Services, Junior City Council as well as Project Playground.

The day’s presentations were two-dimensional and sought to answer the question “how relevant are children’s studies?” – one the one hand, experts deliberated on various aspects ranging from children’s subjective well-being pertaining to research methodologies and social policy to experiential insights and children’s participation in protection as well as children’s rights in the court of law. On the other hand, the children themselves presented on children’s’ rights, corporal punishment, the role of police in child protection as well as the role of children on decision making in matters that affect them.

According to Neziswa Titi, a PhD Scholar from VIPRU and key convener of the colloquium, despite children being at most risk for social ills, multiple traumas, developmental trauma, and poly-victimisation as a result of their environments, research methods, ethical considerations and children’s rights endeavours continue to be adult- and expert-centric.

“More than anything the colloquium sought to focus largely on research with children as opposed to research about children. It centered on the voices of children, coiled by the representatives of the children,’ said Titi who is completing her PhD in children’s studies with a focus on their meaning making of sexual violence-related trauma.

She also says, importantly, the roundtable sessions laid emphasis on children’s right to self-determination of their right to adequate protection from violence. Taking to the podium, Lonwabo Gade, Child Ambassador of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Parliament and co-convener of the colloquium, questioned the legitimacy of cultural explanations to understand the molestation and abuse of children by men who seek to overpower and oppress women and children challenging society to rethink their definitions of culture.

Prof. Ashley van Niekerk, Deputy Director of VIPRU, who chaired the first panel discussion of the day which was comprised of three young delegates, said that there have not been many events in the past that have included children in the manner that this colloquium did.

With this colloquium, we wanted to empower children and create a space where they could represent themselves, concluded Titi.