In England and Wales, children aged 10 are deemed criminally responsible and can go on trial in adult courts for serious offences. Yet it is not until they are 18 that they are deemed to be capable of having a say in the laws to which they are subject. Arguments against children having a vote don’t hold water when the same arguments could be used against many adults. Saying children will vote for the parties that give the most sweeties, ignores the fact that many adults vote for their own personal best interests. This does not disqualify them.
Arguing that children are not yet rational beings should let them off the hook over crimes, but many adults are not rational either: they vote for the handsome guy, the sweet talker, without ever looking at policies and evaluating them.
But children will be influenced by their parents and their peers and will be easily manipulated, say some. This seems to assume that adults are immune from these influences. Many people simply vote for the party their parents did.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children’s views should be taken into account in everything that affects them. Having a vote would enable them to voice those views in the same way adults do. Children voting would focus policies and politicians on the needs and wishes of children to enable us to become a truly child-friendly society. Examples of democratic schools, with pupils and teachers deciding the rules together, such as Summerhill, do not lead to chaos and rebellion. On the contrary, by having a say in how things are run, there is a greater commitment to the community.
If the consequences of children’s political participation is the reform or radical overhaul of schools, or even their abolition, then that is the message we must hear. If children vote in their millions to do away with homework, we need to acknowledge their right to leisure. Political participation in the young could be an antidote to political apathy later on. Being involved in decisions that affect you is a right for all, no matter how young.
This Article was published in Education Outside School issue 9 Autumn 2013 http://issuu.com/educationoutsideschool/docs/issue_9_autumn_2013
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