Anne Houston: We should give 16-year-olds the chance to vote

CHILDREN 1ST is calling on all political parties in Scotland to take action to lower the voting age to 16 for all elections, including the referendum on independence.

We know from speaking to young people that they want to be involved in the democratic process and that they want their opinions to be heard. During 2009, to mark 125 years of our work as the RSSPCC, we engaged with 125 children and young people to establish their vision for the future. A key issue to emerge during this activity was the right to vote.

Young people at our 125 event came from 24 local authority areas in Scotland and their recommendation was unanimous.

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They overwhelmingly supported the idea of young people being included and involved in the democratic process by being given the right to vote from the age of 16.

They felt that their role and opinions would be taken more seriously by decision-makers, and young people would be more consistently and genuinely consulted in national policy-making exercises.

These are just some of the views expressed by young people:

• “The government actively encourages us to make our own decisions, but then they don’t allow us because we aren’t old enough to vote.” 125 participant, age 16.

• “It doesn’t make sense that there are so many things that young people can do at 16 and not at 18, yet they cannot vote until they are 18.” 125 participant, age 16.

• “See the person, not the age. It’s only a number, and it doesn’t define who you are.” 125 participant, age 16.

•“We’ve got a voice too, it’s not just adults. I just think it’d be better if young people got a chance to speak their minds.” 125 participant, age 13.

• “I want adults to work with us to improve things. We can’t just leave it down to them.” 125 participant, age 15.

For all the reasons expressed so passionately by young people, we hope that politicians will see the importance of lowering the voting age and providing wider opportunities for inclusion and participation in issues that matter to them.

Anne Houston is chief executive at Children 1st. For more information see the organisation’s website www.children1st.org.uk.