Rights and Wrongs Facing Voters of the Future; the Anti-War Protests Have Thrown Up an Important Side Issue, with Thousands of School Pupils Taking to the Street to Make Their Opinions Known. despite Claims That the Younger Generation Is Too Apathetic to Get Involved in Politics, Chris Game Looks at the Growing Campaign to Lower the Voting Age to 16

The Birmingham Post (England), April 24, 2003 | Go to article overview

Rights and Wrongs Facing Voters of the Future; the Anti-War Protests Have Thrown Up an Important Side Issue, with Thousands of School Pupils Taking to the Street to Make Their Opinions Known. despite Claims That the Younger Generation Is Too Apathetic to Get Involved in Politics, Chris Game Looks at the Growing Campaign to Lower the Voting Age to 16


Byline: Chris Game

There is, of course, much more to the United Nations than its ill-starred Security Council.

There are what the White House patronisingly calls the UN's 'good works'. These, as it happens, are the topic of my current favourite trivia question.

Which are the only two of nearly 200 countries not to have ratified the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)? One is Somalia, whose perpetually unstable governments have ignored the whole issue. The other - yes, you guessed - is the US.

With 191 ratifications, the CRC is the most universally accepted human rights document in history. Its 54 articles define numerous rights of children and young people that most countries - even dictatorial republics like Iraq - wish to be seen to endorse, even if they subsequently pick and choose which to observe.

Our own government is exceptionally selective, and has repeatedly been reminded that the Convention's articles are not advisory, as ministers appear to imagine, but binding.

'The UK expects other states to take human rights obligations seriously. It should practice what it preaches' - that was from last year's report of the monitoring committee on the Rights of the Child, whose members were understandably upsetthat most of their previous recommendations had apparently been ignored.

They commended the Government's commitment to reduce levels of child poverty and the overdue abolition of corporal punishment in schools.

But their reiterated list of concerns was a long one:

child deaths, resulting from abuse and neglect;

use of physical restraint on children in detention and residential institutions;

retention of the 1860 defence of 'reasonable chastisement' for those charged with child assault;

our low age of criminal responsibility;

the increasing use of custody for children at earlier ages and for lesser offences.

Post columnist, David Wilson, added another when he drew attention (April 8) to the child-discriminatory implications of the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill currently before Parliament - with its proposed police powers to disperse groups of two or more children, should it be thought they might cause distress to others.

The CRC monitors were critical too of the recruitment of child soldiers and of the sixyear 'enlistment trap' facing the school leavers who nowadays comprise about one-third of the intake into our armed forces. We have the dubious distinction of having more under-18 servicemen than any other country in Europe, and both the Falklands and the first Gulf War saw 17-year old casualties.

The American approach to the CRC is different. Instead of ignoring, they oppose. For some Americans at least, children's rights are part of a zero sum game, gained only at the expense of parental rights and, therefore, to be fiercely and unashamedly resisted.

Clinton tried to get Senate ratification, but was repeatedly defeated by conservative Republicans. President Bush 'has no plans to pursue ratification'.

Article 12 of the CRC is not about the right to life, education or health care or protection from abuse, trafficking or exploitation. It is nonetheless important. It asserts children's rights to express and have their views taken into account in all matters affecting them, in accordance with their age and maturity.

Article 12 is also the name of a youth-led children's rights organisation: one of a coalition of charities and pressure groups that in January of this year launched the Votes at 16 campaign. …

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Rights and Wrongs Facing Voters of the Future; the Anti-War Protests Have Thrown Up an Important Side Issue, with Thousands of School Pupils Taking to the Street to Make Their Opinions Known. despite Claims That the Younger Generation Is Too Apathetic to Get Involved in Politics, Chris Game Looks at the Growing Campaign to Lower the Voting Age to 16
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