Votes for children?


Last weekend we went to see an exhibition at the British Museum called I object: Ian Hislop’s search for dissent. It featured dissenting items that people had left their mark on in order to object and to protest. Some of these items were defaced coins and banknotes, such as the British pennies defaced with the Votes for Women slogan shortly before the outbreak of the First World War. The exhibition posed questions for the attendees throughout, including one questioning why the voting age should or should not be lowered in the UK.

Currently in the UK
you can vote from the age of 18, except in Scotland where you can vote at 16 in Scottish elections. 18 is the most common age minimum age for voting across the world, although some other countries do have a minimum voting age of 16 and others have minimum voting ages of higher than 18. But some think the voting age should be lower than 16, including Prof David Runciman, head of politics at Cambridge University, who has suggested it should be lowered to six. He argues that ‘I would lower the voting age to six, not 16. And I’m serious about that. I would want people who vote to be able to read, so I would exclude reception [age-children].’

We were reminded of A.S Neill’s Summerhill School, a boarding school in Suffolk which describes itself as a ‘democratic, self-governing school in which the adults and children have equal status’. Meetings take place twice a week where everyone (from the youngest four-year-old pupils to the headmaster) has the opportunity to vote on a one-person-one-vote basis. Stronach and Piper (2008: 12) describe how this approach differs from other schools: ‘students propose and police laws to ensure the proper running of the school, privacy, and the rights of individuals… They address specific problems as they arise, rather than envisaging possible problems in terms of universal prescription. Even the School Laws have numerous specific exceptions. For example, Law 48: “Freddy can have a stick bigger than him.” ‘ This shows how young children can be involved in decision-making, although some would question whether the ethos and philosophy of Summerhill could be transferred elsewhere.

What do you think? Does Summerhill show us that children are capable of voting on issues relevant to them? And do you agree with Prof Runciman – should the minimum voting age be lowered to six?

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