Campaign to lower voting age to 16 in Northern Ireland

Categories: Civil Rights and Freedoms and Respect for the views of the child

2nd October 2017

A renewed campaign to lower the voting age to 16 in Northern Ireland cites encouragement and inspiration by young people's engagement in both the Scottish Referendum and the most recent General Election.

The Northern Ireland Youth Forum (NIYF) has taken on the issue of children's right to vote, launching a new campaign to lower the voting age to 16. The NIYF have been campaigning on this issue for around 8 years and have seen little progress despite securing NI Assembly backing following their debate of 6th November 2012, where the majority voted in favour.

The Secretary of State for NI has stated that there are no plans to lower the voting age at this time. However, turnouts at the Scottish referendum and the most recent General Election showed young people's desire to engage in elections.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recently recommended that consultations should be carried out with children on the voting age in each of the devolved administrations of the UK.

NIYF Chairperson Tara Grace Connolly said:

"It is ironic that you can join a political party at 16 but can't actually vote for it. Young people at this age can get married, pay taxes, have a job, leave school, consent to medical treatment, and start a family but they cannot vote".

Northern Ireland's Commissioner for Children and Young People, Koulla Yiasouma, also expressed her support for reform and spoke at the Votes for 16 campaign launch, saying that there was "no reason to deny them the vote".

Progress in Malta

In Malta, as many as 8,500 children could be added to the electoral roll thanks to proposals to lower the voting age for national elections and elections to the European Parliament. The country already allows 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections, and the country's Labour Party has pledged to give older children the power to vote in national elections in their 2017-2022 manifesto.

As part of the process, Parliamentary Secretary for Reform, Julia Farrugia Portelli, launched a consultation document on voting rights for over-16s, called "Vote 16: Empowering Youth". The document also asks whether 16 and 17-year-olds should be allowed to contest local elections, with the possibility of becoming mayors. Expressing her support for the legal change, the country's Commissioner for Children, Pauline Miceli, said:

"It is important to empower the young generation by facilitating the involvement in decisions that directly affect them and society at large."

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