NORWAY: Children’s Ombudsman calls to lower voting age [campaign]

NORWAY: Children’s Ombudsman calls to lower voting age [campaign]

The Children’s Ombudsmen for Norway, Reidar Hjermann is calling on all candidates for the municipal and County Council elections to support lowering the age of voting to 16.

As young people are major consumers of municipal and county services, Hjermann says that they are also local experts with knowledge and competencies that adults lack. “As a politician, you will need their expert advice if you want to influence and build well-functioning municipalities”, he says.

He explains that lowering the voting age would boost the development of district and rural municipalities. As such, enhanced participation in local democracies will not only benefit children and young people’s well-being, but will also make the municipality more attractive for young families. An active children and youth policy will ensure dynamic local communities.

Today, the average first-time voter in municipal and county council elections in Norway is 20 years old. As a result of having elections every four years, and because many young people move away from the municipality for educational purposes, many first-time voters will have moved from their local environments at the time of election.

At this point, many no longer have first hand experiences with fledgling school buildings, the lack of proper bicycle paths, closing of youth clubs and a poor bus services. “If we give 16 year olds a vote, this will stimulate politicians to listen and improve communications with this age group, they will have no choice. Further, citizenship learning in schools will be all the more relevant, and the election campaigns will be brought into the schoolyard more so than before. One can also expect an earlier political and democratic wake-up call when youngsters see what they can achieve in their own environment” Hjermann explains.

Even though the government department responsible for elections has turned down the suggestion of lowering the age of voting for the upcoming elections, Hjermann argues that they should start now to work with young people, society at large and politicians to prepare everyone for the elections in 2011.

Many of those against this proposal assert that lowering the voting age to 16 means tampering with the age of majority; but Hjermann argues that there are already different age limits that suggest different degrees of maturity. “We are all potential tax-payers from 16 to 67. Today 15 year olds are sent to prison, 16 year olds are authoritative in medical terms, and they pay adult tickets on buses”.

”We have ten years of compulsory school. It is the school system that will set us up to participate actively in our society. If the school does not prepare young people to elect politicians, it is not the young that have failed, but the school. Voting at 16 will coincide with the last year of compulsory school. The last year in school is indeed a fitting time to participate in the elections and forming of our society.

Lowering the voting age requires us to change the constitution. Testing it in the next Municipal and County Council elections does not. We have everything to gain and nothing to loose in this experiment”.

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