Plea to consider benefits of lowering voting age to 16

Tilly King - Year 13, Waitaki Girls’ High Schoo
Tilly King - Year 13, Waitaki Girls’ High Schoo
While the ice caps and glaciers are melting in Antarctica.

While fires are burning in Australia.

While peaceful protests in America are demanding racial justice.

While Pacific Islands are being flooded.

While children in Yemen are starving.

Our Government continues as normal.

Activists of all ages are on the streets, demanding equality, racial justice, climate change action and aid for struggling countries.

Yet, our Government continues as normal.

Youth movements are taking our world by storm, creating a wave of activism carrying voices — voices of youth silenced by our democracy.

Sixteen-year-olds and older deserve the true power of their voice: the ability to have a say in who runs our country, who makes the laws and sets the policies.

Our system is unrepresentative and it needs to change.

Yet our Government continues as normal.

Colossal youth movements, School Strike 4 Climate, 4 Thaa Kulture, Pacific Climate Warriors and Te Ara Whatu, are trying to change our Aotearoa for the better, urging the Government to make changes.

We care — just like a minister cares about their portfolio — yet our portfolio is our future.

The world we are growing and learning in today is a world significantly different from our parents’ and many of the politicians’ worlds.

An uprise of technology and globalisation has meant we are all connected, increasing accessibility and awareness of constant global events.

This has put extreme pressure on everyone to react in mature ways, meaning we are forming mature ideas and values.

Allowing 16-year-olds the right to vote gives us an opportunity to voice our opinions and contribute to a Government that will protect and prevent irreversible harm to our Earth and humanity.

I want to leave this Earth knowing I did everything I could to clean up the acts of generations before me — before it was too late.

We know that if we don’t act now, if we don’t try to solve the sticky mess we’ve found ourselves in, it is only going to be passed on to our children’s shoulders, twice as heavy as it is now.

Yet, our Government continues as normal.

Our Government is meant to represent our country through a representative democracy, yet how are youth being represented here in Aotearoa?

The short answer: we aren’t.

At 16, you are allowed to drive, buy a gun, fly a plane solo and legally leave school.

At 17, you are treated as an adult in the defence system, police can question you without parental consent, yet you are not considered ‘‘adult’’ enough to vote.

Even though you are making your own decisions and being treated as an adult in nearly every way, according to our Government, your voice is not worthy of being heard.

This creates ripple effects, by creating a disinterest in politics for young people, meaning they are less likely to get involved and even vote when they are older.

At 16, I no longer consider myself a ‘‘child’’.

I am a young adult, conscious and aware of the challenges facing our planet.

I have a voice. I have opinions. I care and I listen to the scientists calling for action, and I am not blind to the protests happening on our streets.

Yet, our Government continues as normal.

Banning fossil fuels now or waiting another five years could determine the lifespan of our children’s generation.

Choosing whether to recover from Covid-19 by investing in and providing new jobs in green, sustainable industries rather than returning to ‘‘normal’’ could determine the future economy, job market and our ability to recover from future crises.

Yet, every day hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt is being placed on our shoulders as a result of the recovery.

These decisions are long term, with long-lasting consequences for our generation and the next.

How is this fair?

Lowering the voting age would create a better, more equal democracy in Aotearoa.

This would enable pupils to be supported to vote through school.

Studies show that once you have voted once, you are more likely to vote again. This would increase voter turnout and result in a more representative democracy.

It would also stimulate interest in politics that exists in our schools, contrary to beliefs that teenagers are apathetic, ignorant and bored by politics.

What I see is a system that encourages this, through silence and under-representation.

Spotting politicians under 20 in Parliament is like finding a Maui dolphin in Te Moana Nui-a-Kiwa; rare, endangered and vulnerable.

Why would youth be interested in politics when they have no-one to inspire them?

To stop our Earth from plunging into a dire state of disrepair, we need to give our rangatahi the right to have their voice heard.

Make it 16, to prevent our Government from continuing as normal.

We need change, change to our system, to see change in our planet for the better.

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