Should Children Be Allowed To Vote?

A novel proposal to extend the vote to children has been advanced by Matt Gaughwin, a medical practitioner and senior clinical lecturer in public health at the University of Adelaide.

Writing in The Australian, Gaughwin says that children are second-class citizens who experience the greatest suffering and injustices in our society.

Gaughwin says that injustice and suffering experienced in childhood lasts a lifetime and is transmitted to the next generation.

Gaughwin argues:

Children should be equal with adults in important ways – more ways than they are now. Each and every child should possess the right to have their interests heard in our political processes directly.

Children’s suffrage – in an appropriate form – is a way to help bring this about. History amply demonstrates that those who are part of the demos readily ignore the interests and wellbeing of those they exclude from democratic processes.

Gaughwin argues that money should be held in trust for the future wellbeing of fostered children, says “there is less political and societal will to share our collective wealth and provide such programs on a wide scale.”

He says:

For example, just as we have and continue to fund treatment for drug-addicted parents inadequately, we also care inadequately for their children. In so doing we abrogate our responsibilities and obligations to those who need our help most. This societal neglect is allowed to continue because, among other reasons, there is no political voice that can count as the voice of children.

The voice of children needs to be heard loud and clear in all our democratic forums and in the regulations and laws we enact. It needs to be heard in the potential family, in the family itself and in our wider politics. Our political society needs to hear the voice of children which asks: What policies and procedures do you have which give me the best start in life? Is there a job for my mum and dad? Am I protected from harm before it occurs?

Gaughwin argues that it is a moral responsibility to care for children:

We are all the children of someone and we are in turn all the parents or guardians of the children of our communities.

Isaiah Berlin once said that our first social obligation is to avoid the extremes of suffering and that priorities, never absolute, must be established. By identifying with our children we come to see how they can suffer and how we might meet their needs. We need another Charles Dickens to write about “the new neglect” of the children of our times, which rivals that of Victorian England.

We have many of our priorities about-faced. We are likely to spend more on the health of adults in the last six months of their lives than on children at risk in the first six years of their lives.

By giving priority to a democracy in which each and every person shall have one vote, we begin to construct the conditions in which all citizens, children and adults alike, can claim their fair share of the primary goods of our society. Not only is children’s suffrage categorically the right thing to do, it is also likely to be a wellspring of public health.

Gaughwin calls on South Australia to take the lead. It was South Australia that led the world in introducing adult suffrage for men over 21 in 1856. The secret ballot was introduced at the same time and women over 21 were allowed to vote in 1894. Only New Zealand introduced female suffrage earlier than this.

Gaughwin concludes:

South Australia led the world in giving suffrage to women. It is time to begin exploring options to give suffrage to children. As a start we can discuss whether children could vote through special proxies – their parents or guardians in most instances.

It may seem that this idea of children’s suffrage is too extreme, too difficult or ridiculous. Novel ideas unsettle us, they threaten the status quo just as the idea of women’s suffrage did. But we look back now and say that women’s suffrage was right.

Just as the injustices and oppression experienced by women within liberal democracies could not be eliminated in a world in which they were not the political equals of men, so it must be for children.

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