Wednesday, January 26, 2011

British House of Lords debates voting rights for 16- and 17-year olds

On December 13 the British House of Lords debated an amendment that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in an upcoming referendum on electoral reform in the United Kingdom. The amendment was offered to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, and although it addressed participation in the referendum only, the debate included discussion of extending voting rights in general for this age group. This debate followed another in October during which over 200 MPs voted in favor of extending the right to vote to 16- and 17-year-olds.

Although the amendment was ultimately withdrawn, the debate demonstrated that there is significant support in Parliament for extending the franchise to younger citizens. Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town, who introduced the amendment, opened debate by arguing that the lack of voting rights for 16- and 17-year-olds amounts to taxation without representation. The Baroness cited the support of the U.K. Youth Parliament, the Electoral Reform Society and the POWER Inquiry (an independent inquiry established in 2004 to find ways to deepen political participation) for lowering the voting age. According to Baroness Hayter, "there is general support for voting at 16. The objections that were thrown up were practical ones rather than issues of principle. The real issue is that nearly everyone supports the idea of voting at 16."

Monday, January 24, 2011

Authentic Youth Civic Engagement: A Guide for Municipal Leaders

This resource is not exactly new--it came out in 2010. But it is an excellent guide for city leaders seeking to engage young people in the United States. The primary author is Cindy Carlson, who has directed Hampton, Virginia's Coalition for Youth. Hampton is probably the most well-known example in the U.S. of successful integration of youth into city and community decision-making. The guide is designed to assist local officials in taking four key steps to successfully engage young people:
  • Develop a climate that is welcoming and inviting to youth;
  • Develop an infrastructure that supports meaningful youth participation;
  • Create a range of meaningful opportunities for young people to participate in local government; and
  • Build youth-adult partnerships to support youth participation.
The guide contains a number of tools local leaders can use to begin and enhance their efforts at meaningful youth civic participation.

Authentic Youth Civic Engagement: A Guide for Municipal Leaders

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New resource from NYA: Challenge and Lead

Britain's National Youth Agency has produced a new resource for groups of young people seeking to influence and gain the support of policymakers. Challenge and Lead: A five stage plan to support leadership and challenge can help young activists identify strategies, hone their presentation skills, plan a campaign and evaluate the results.

Challenge and Lead builds on the NYA's Hear by Right standards and can be used by youth development professionals or groups of young people with some experience working together. The NYA is requesting that young people contribute case studies describing what they have accomplished using this resource.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Youth Parliament commences in Timor-Leste

On December 15 some 130 youth delegates from across Timor-Leste were seated in that nation's new Youth Parliament. Fernando Araujo Lasama, President of Timor-Leste’s national Parliament, addressed the group and invited them to participate in the upcoming budget discussions.

The new Youth Parliament--which at an average age of fourteen years is the youngest in the region--elected its first president, 15-year-old Lizeiro da Silva. The group also drafted its first set of recommendations on issues affecting youth in Timor-Leste. The recommendations, which addressed education, health, employment and recreation, were presented to the national Parliament and the Secretary of State for Youth and Sports.

The young delegates will represent their communities to the new Parliament for two years. Timor-Leste’s Youth Parliament is supported by UNICEF and the Secretary of State for Youth and Sports.

Youth Parliament commences in Timor-Leste

The politicization of youth participation

Here's an interesting opinion piece by Khairulanwar Zaini in Singapore's The Online Citizen that has implications for youth participation everywhere. A youth group called the Boon Lay Youth Club (BLYC) has been endorsed by the federal Ministry of Education (MoE) as an official co-curricular activity (CCA). The BLYC is sponsored by a junior college to give young people opportunities for community service, and the MoE endorsement signifies that the club's goals are in line with the Ministry's aim of encouraging the development of a sense of community and civic duty. The endorsement as an official CCA also means that members can earn CCA "points" that may help them improve their chances for admission to university.

The endorsement of the BLYC has been criticized by some Singaporeans, however, because the BLYC has ties to the ruling People's Action Party (PAP). Critics charge that the government's endorsement is a back-door strategy to support the children of the ruling elite, and to bring impressionable young people into the party. Defenders of the endorsement counter that it is simply a way to recognize a quality program and to reward young people who engage in service to their communities.

The specifics of this case are less important to supporters of youth participation in governance than the larger point made by the author of the opinion piece. Prior to independence from Britain in the mid-1960s, Singapore had a rich history of student activism. According to Zaini, the PAP-led government realized that such activism could threaten political stability (or its own authority, depending on one's perspective), and slowly drained Singaporean education of any trace of politics. The result, says Zaini, is that young people have become politically apathetic. According to Zaini,
"[I]t is not about the BLYC being a covert party apparatus, but that the government has contrived a new understanding of community service and civic participation: one that is intricately interwoven with statist interests. The problem is really how civic initiatives inevitably gravitate towards partnership with – or even under the complete guidance of – the government. This is not surprising, because the political vacuum of society has found itself occupied by the bureaucratic apparatus of the state. With such a monopoly, it is merely a matter of semantics to collapse all civic efforts into endeavours that maintain the government’s perpetuity."
This is the dilemma of officially sanctioned youth participation. When governments or other public entities like school districts sponsor youth participation, do they really want authentic youth voice? Not if those voices are loudly demanding change. At least in the developed world, the young people who participate in government-supported youth participation initiatives are unlikely to challenge the political status quo because doing so could lead to restrictions on youth voice, and to negative outcomes for those young people who raise such challenges. Thus most youth-in-governance initiatives are expressly apolitical, and the young people who participate end up spending most of their time planning youth- and family-oriented events that rarely lead to any significant change.

This is not a new problem. Any state-sponsored program is unlikely to support overt criticism of the state by those who participate in the program. This is why many young idealists are more attracted to grassroots activism than to youth-in-governance initiatives, which they see as support for the status quo. The noisy and unambiguous demands for change favored by many grassroots groups can be emotionally satisfying, and sometimes effective. Yet these tactics can also be counterproductive because they place those in power on the defensive. Quiet, incremental approaches to change such as youth participation may be frustrating at times--especially for young people--but they can also be effective because those who participate in them learn how power, influence and relationships can lead to lasting change through policy. The risk of cooptation is ever present, of course, but for young people with patience and determination, participation in governance can be an effective strategy for social and political change without violence.

BLYC debate: Excavating the political