Posted: 09 May 2011

We should let 16 and 17-year-olds have the right to vote

Many of us will have new leaders at the helm of our local councils following last week's local elections and there is a new parliament taking shape in Scotland and new Assemblies in Wales and in Northern Ireland.

In the weeks and months ahead the newly elected representatives will take decisions, which affect all of our lives. And if we don't like what they do we can simply choose to vote them out at the next election. That's the beauty of democratic politics.

Empowering young people

Our children, however, are excluded from the process as they don't have the right to vote, which in effect, leaves them powerless. Even though many of the decisions taken by the new councillors and assembly members such as closing libraries or commissioning youth services, affect young people's lives, young people are not able to directly influence those decisions.

So is it right we prevent under 18s the right to vote?
Given that at the age of 16, a teenager can give full consent to medical treatment, leave school and enter work or training, enter the armed forces, get married or enter a civil partnership, pay income tax and national insurance, it does seem unjust that they cannot vote.

The Votes at 16 campaign

Empowering more than 1.5 million 16 and 17 year-olds in the UK through a democratic right surely would be a logical extension of the wide ranging responsibilities and legal powers that they already have.

It would also inspire young people to be actively involved in civic society. That's why The Children's Society supports The Votes at 16 campaign, and encourages others to pledge their support. Extending the franchise would demonstrate how we are a mature democracy and not an outdated one.
For children under 16, even though they should not be given the right to vote, it doesn't mean that we shouldn't consider how we can empower them to be active participants in our communities rather than passive recipients of other people's decisions. In some areas there are active youth councils and youth mayors who have an input into local authority decision-making.

In Lambeth, south London, 10,000 young people aged 11-18 recently voted in the youth council elections at polling stations in schools, youth centres and online. Enabling children and young people to influence local authority decisions in this way often results in better outcomes and improved services.
In the 21st century we need to recognise that democratic politics should not simply be reserved for adults. Children need to be engaged, empowered and inspired to play an active role in our democracy so they too can influence the decisions that shape their lives.

Enver Solomon, Policy Director at The Children's Society

By Enver Solomon - Policy team

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