On your 16th birthday you are legally deemed ‘mature enough’ to be able to undertake a multitude of responsibilities; these include joining the armed forces, paying taxes, changing your name, having sex or even getting married. This list goes on.
Importantly, young people don’t just care about youth issues. There is a perception that young people will naively vote for politicians that promise more youth clubs, lower drinking ages and similar themes. This is not the case. Yes young people care about the things that affect them, as do any age group, but they also see the bigger picture locally, nationally and internationally. They cite the refugee crisis, technological advancements and how to live in a global economy. Young people overwhelmingly have an optimistic outlook on the future, and thank goodness as by 2020 50% of the workforce will be millennials, pushing for a brighter and more prosperous world.
My next thought; if you don’t think young people are equipped enough to make this decision, instead of segregating them, try asking them what support and education they need. Votes at 16 is not a campaign that assumes giving 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote is the silver bullet to engagement across young people in politics. But, it could well be the start. Ask us what we want and need to know about our democracy and political structures, so we can educate each other and engage all member of society from an early age. The impact of this could be phenomenal.
So much of this focuses on whether young people are mature enough, informed enough or if they’ve had enough ‘life experience’ to form an opinion. When was the last time adults questioned their ability to form a rational opinion? The debate always leads to questioning young people and outing them under a moral microscope, yet we never ask the same question to older citizens. What is society doing to ensure everyone is receiving a fair and unbiased education on politics, democracy and voting?
If you are still unsure as to why young people’s voices matter I beg that you go and ask a young person what they think. Not just about school, youth clubs and youth issues; but about the economy, globalisation, jobs. And not just 16 and 17 year olds, ask a 12-year-old, even a 9 year old what they think. Ask them why they think this and how they formed this opinion, why they care and what experiences they have had so far. I guarantee that you will be shocked and pleasantly surprised at the thoughtfulness, the inquisitiveness, boldness and perhaps the shyness in their views.
What we need is a country that wholeheartedly supports and listens to young people, and Votes at 16 is a sharp step in the right direction to make this a reality.