VOTES AT 16?
Giving the vote to sixteen year olds is a deeply flawed proposal
and partly motivated, I guess, by Labour's belief that the majority
of 16 and 17 year olds will vote for them. I might mention in
passing that from my recent experiences of talking to young
people, that may be an optimistic view.
Deciding when childhood ends and adulthood begins is
controversial, not least because of the differing maturity of
teenagers of the same age. So, some 15 year olds might be ready to
vote and would use the privilege with care. Some 20 year olds
decline to vote or vote carelessly.
But overall, most countries, and the UN, have agreed that
adulthood starts at 18. As a consequence we protect those under
18. We don't allow them to marry without parental consent.
Although they can join the armed forces, we don't send them to
war zones. If we prosecute them, we do so in the Youth Court and,
because they are children, the punishments that follow conviction
are generally less severe than those for an adult convicted of a
We do not allow under 18s to take out loans or otherwise get into
debt and we do not allow them to drink or gamble. We do all these
things because they are children.
Blurring the distinction between childhood and adulthood by
extending suffrage to children has the potential deeply to damage
their interests. Not immediately, but soon afterward, we would
hear why a seventeen year old, old enough to vote, is old enough
to fight in a war, or old enough to be excluded from the youth
court, old enough to be convicted like an adult. Sixteen year olds
are children. And for that reason, because they are children, we
should not be tempted to allow them to vote.