Friday, September 24, 2004

 

Give children the right to vote (no, seriously...)

For some time, the British government has been toying with ideas of how to get people in this country to vote. Since having decent polices that people might be encouraged to vote for has been ruled out, the debate has shifted to other questions - i.e. would people be more willing to vote if elections were held on a Sunday instead of the traditional Thursday?

A more exciting proposal, indicating New Labour's occasional penchant for innovation, is the suggestion that the right to vote might be extended to 16 and 17 year-olds. The government - that is, the Prime Minister - professes that he has not made his mind up yet and that he can see good arguments either way.
In April this year, the Electoral Commission, which had been examining the problem,
issued its own answer. The Commission had been asked to look into reasons why so few young people in the 18-21 age group had chosen to vote in the May 2001 general election. Only 39% did so - less than in any other age category. Could extending the votes to younger people encourage greater participation in national elections, the Commission asked? No, was the view they came to. The Commission found that under 18s were even less enthusiastic and that those interested in voting at 16 were in a minority. The Commission's only suggestion was that the minimum age for a member of Parliament should be dropped from 21 to 18.
Elsewhere, the debate won little enthusiasm and quite a bit of scorn, with the exception of some campaigning groups.

With the debate still frozen over whether 16 year-olds should be permitted to vote, I would like to make a different proposal - that there should be no age restriction on voting and that children at any age who express an interest in voting should have the right to do so. Just putting those words togther often prompts the noise of raised eyebrows and instant counter-arguments, combined with shouts of "That's ridiculous!" so I had better explain why I think it is a good idea.
Allowing children to vote - actually allowing children to do pretty much anything - arouses strong passions and often hostility. Some members of the public expressed the following views during the discussion over 16 year-ods voting:

"I think that there has to be some kind of cut-of point, I mean you couldn't have 2 year olds crawling into ballot boxes on their own to vote (!), so why not 18? With peer pressure and media pressure children are forced to grow up to [sic] quickly anyway, childhood is the most fun you're likely to have in this life, well until retirement anyway :-), so why should we give them more to worry about and argue about and split them into even more cliques and factions at school?"

"I dont think that the voting age should be lowered. It is such a stupid suggestion and cant [sic] believe it. Kids dont [sic] watch politics on TV, they dont [sic] follow presedential elections. Kids now-a-days only care about what they are wearing and girls/guys. This is a stupid suggestion and it should be forgetten imediatly." [sic] ...They are also very busy with school work and dont have time, alot of them dont want to vote either which could lead to unfair voting. [sic]

"I don't think its a good idea because loads of people i knwo [sic] of 16/17 say they believe in anarchy! What would this unleash on the country, others support the BNP as they are inexperienced and don't really know what its all about!"

"Are the Electoral Commission mad? The voting age should be raised to about 25. Never have we had such dumbed down youth, with their total disregard for responsibilities but encyclopaedic knowledge of their 'rights'. The day our 16 and 17 year olds get the right to show some maturity of thinking should come on the day they stop tagging, scratching, cussing, spitting and mugging. Why on earth should aspects of my life be decided by those who don't give a stuff about the quality of anyone else's? Just look at their glum, cheerless faces - all attitude and no charisma. What they really need is not the vote, but a good belt for their ludicrously oversized jeans."

"No. I really believe that your average sixteen year old has neither the interest nor maturity to utilise a voting right. Parents/carers will simply be provided with an additional vote. Even those actively interested tend to pursue youthful ideals which, whilst admirable are usually impractical."

These replies are not untypical and reflect rather common attitudes towards young people and children. The various views expressed here are popular but they won't stand up to any scrutiny and on the whole, the suspicion they arouse is that the case against allowing children to have voting rights is based entirely on mean-spirited and often weird prejudices about under-18s.

One of the first points is important - that it is impossible for babies or toddlers to vote meaningfully so there must be a cut-off point. This sounds reasonable, but actually it is not. The injustice of an arbitrary cut-off point based on age is that it works on the crass and demonstrably false assumption that children all mature at around the same time.
In one article in the Enquirer, a 17 year-old girl in Washington expresses her disappointment that she will not be allowed to vote in the US presidential elctions this year because she won't be quite 18 on the day - "I am very, very interested in politics in general... It just breaks my heart - I'm going to miss the cutoff point." Lindsay Holbrooke will be 17 and 11 months old in November 2004. She wants to vote for John Kerry, the Democratic candidate. In January 2005, she will live under the administration of the winning candidate but she won't have had the chance to vote for him.

Clearly there is an injustice here. The notion that Lindsay is better able to make her mind on matters political in January but too immature in November is silly. You can solve her problem by allowing 17 year-olds to vote - but you will quickly discover that there are people like Lindsay at the age of 16, 15, 14... A fair system would allow all of them to vote not when they reach an age designated by adults, but when they feel ready to. This brings us to the earlier point - "you couldn't have 2 year olds crawling into ballot boxes on their own to vote!" Note first, before we go any further, that most two year-olds are quite capable of walking and do not crawl. That may be an aside, but it might just be worth noting that the person expressing this opinion is not all that familiar with children's development. In any case, my suggestion is that children should be allowed to vote if they show an interest and ask for that right. Since a two year-old is not capable of this, the issue does not even arise. Most young children will not understand the idea of voting and will not find it interesting to them.

The last of the opinions cited insists "I really believe that your average sixteen year old has neither the interest nor maturity to utilise a voting right", indicating the degree of resistance to extending the voting rights to 16 year-olds - let well alone much younger children. Again, the point is not what the "average sixteen year old" thinks, whoever he or she may be, but whether individual 16 year-olds feel that they want to vote and that they are ready to do so.
It is hard to shake the suspicion that so many of these arguments are informed by prejudice, or by people who spend very little time with young people, except when they see groups of them hanging round on bikes at the corner of an estate reeling off expletives, smoking and hawking up their saliva.

Those who do spend time in the company of children and teenagers and who are at all interested in discovering what they think about anything will have come across other kinds of children. In my own school, until recently, we had a 10 year-old Iranian girl (her mother was forced to leave Iran by the regime), who was very active in the anti-war movement and the protests against President Bush in November 2003. Tanya (not her real name), is a girl of striking maturity and intelligence - in the best sense of those words. She was more than capable of expressing opinions and, if she wanted to, as capable of voting in an election as most adult.

While Tanya stood out in many ways, other children in her class, including the most disruptive, are often quite capable of expressing political opinons. Abdullah (name changed again), for instance, one of the more disruptive members of the class, is very informed about the situation facing the Kurds, reflecting his own background. Whether such children would want to vote if given that right is another matter, but there is no good reason to deny them the opportunity.

The argument that children should not be allowed to vote because they don't understand the issues - sometimes quite explicitly expressed in terms of their supposed stupidity - has one obvious flaw. If taken seriously, it could be used as an argument for barring most adults from voting - and in fact from barring humanity in general from any kind of decision making. No one could argue that most adults understand fully or even adequately a whole range of issues - the causes of inflation, the scientific debate over the causes and likely impact of global warming, the origins and effects of Third World debt, the historical background of the conflict in Northern Ireland and so on. Not only is understanding of these issues among the general public very low - but understanding among our political representatives is often as low or even lower. Perhaps there are those who would like to claim that Boris Yeltsin had a good grasp of economics, or Dick Cheney has a sound background in studies of climate-change, or that Richard Nixon could be safely entrusted with the world's largest nuclear arsenal, but few will join them.

There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that many adults vote, when they choose to do so, for entirely frivolous reasons - such as the physical appearance of a candidate. A recent survey of public opinion in Britain found that 40% of the public would be disinclined to vote for a Prime Minister who was Jewish - a view that is sinister as well as idiotic. Presidential elections in the US often quite openly revolve around such issues as whether John Kerry eats hamburgers (his detractors claim that he doesn't, he claimed he did - but perhaps untruthfully). In one infamous British by-election in the Midlands in 1964, the Conservative candidate swept to victory with the winning slogan "If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Liberal or Labour." And it is worth noting that often it is people with a high level of education and privilege who are voting on such grounds. It is an unfortunate reality that adults with grossly ill-informed views and sometimes very horrible ones cast their votes along with everyone else.
But most of us believe - rightly - that the fact that adults vote for dubious or bad reasons is not good enough grounds for denying them the right to vote. There are some who might talk about a society governed by an elite of very intelligent people (by which they usually mean people like themselves), but most of us appreciate that a country run by an unelected elite chosen for their supposed intelligence would be the most insufferable tyranny imaginable. Hopefully, most people recognise that in practice, extending trust and responsibility to as wide a range of people as possible is fairer and makes for a better society.

One more serious effort at a scientific case against giving young people voting rights comes from R. Elizabeth Cornwell and Professor Richard Dawkins (recently named Britain's favourite intellectual in a national poll). Cornwell and Dawkins argued that at 16 years, the brain is still not properly formed - rather it is in a state of internal turmoil - and so important decisions such as voting should be put in such volatile hands.
They begin with one warning of a world where politicians appeal to the younger vote, quoting the website of one Labour MP:

"Hey, chill with the anti-Europe vibes already! You totally won't be able to wear the word 'fcuk' on your shirt anymore if we break our connection with France, y'dig? ROFFLE! So, cut it with the bling bling and do something for the community, man. Join in and take action with any of the groovy sites we've listed, or just drop Tom a line for a quiet rap by the electronic email. Tom's well-up on the Interwebnet, and he won't harsh your buzz or dis you down the line."

Admittedly, this is pretty shocking stuff, but it is worth pointing out that the people producing this are not young people, but adults attempting to reach out to them. Their own article has been given the title 'Dodgy frontal lobes, y'dig?' Titles are usually picked by sub-editors so let us not blame Cornwell and Dawkins, but might this title suggest a little something about adult attitudes towards young people (and we might also add - towards black young people in particular?) That they are so stupid we must affect a different language in order to talk to them? Adults like to talk about "getting down to their level" when it comes to children - and yet quite often end up somewhere below their level and embarassing self-respecting children.

The argument continues on a more serious note:

Neuroscientists such as Jay Geidd, of the US National Institutes of Health, have shown that the brain undergoes major reconstruction from the onset of puberty which continues until 20 or beyond: especially the frontal lobes or prefrontal cortex, the very bit that enables us to think in the abstract, weigh moral dilemmas and control our impulses. It's been called the part of the brain that makes us human. Frontal lobe damage causes severe personality changes and sudden emotional outbursts. Patients often can't control inappropriate or antisocial behaviour, can't plan for the future, or see the consequences of their behaviour. Do these symptoms sound familiar?
...As Geidd says, "[It's] not that the teens are stupid or incapable... It's sort of unfair to expect them to have adult levels of organisational skills or decision-making before their brain is finished being built." In Jensen's words, "[Parents] have to function like a surrogate set of frontal lobes." The child psychologist Charles Nelson of the University of Minnesota says much the same thing, after explaining the erratic and moody teenage behaviour which bedevils even the most adoring parents: "[Adolescents] are capable of very strong emotions and very strong passions, but their prefrontal cortex hasn't caught up with them yet. It's as though they don't have the brakes that allow them to slow those emotions down."

This is, in my view, a good example of what can happen when scientists start looking at brains and not at people - or more specifically, when they make unwarranted generalisations about human behaviour on the basis of what they have learned about the physical formation of the brain.

The fact is that there are plenty of people under the age of 18 who do not conform to this "erratic and moody" teenage stereotype and who are as capable of dealing with their emotions as most adults are with theirs. Nor is it a question of "expecting them to have organizational skills or decision-making before their brain is finished being built" - rather it is a matter of allowing them to take part in decision-making if and when they want to. Incidentally, it is denying teenagers the opportunity to exercise such responsibilites which is more often a cause of that "erratic and moody teenage behaviour which bedevils even the most adoring parents".

Dawkins and Cromwell go on to conclude from the studies of the frontal lobe that young people should not only not be voting but that they should have even fewer decision-making powers than they do already:

Never mind the vote. Should people whose brains are still unfinished and in turmoil be making life-changing decisions for themselves: Which A-levels to take? Which university to apply to? Sixteen-year-old brains might be scarcely better equipped to make a sensible judgment - about their own or the country's future - than six-year-old brains are equipped to read War and Peace.

One interesting piece of conventional wisdom that is always doing the rounds is the idea that young people grow up too fast these days, that they don't have the chance to be children and enjoy it. There is some substance to this view, but much less than many people realise. In particular, young people are not growing up especially fast in the liberal societies of the West - they are actually growing up slower than in almost any period in history.

I remember reading Roman history with a certain amount of astonishment, in particular the life of Octavian, later the Emperor Augustus. Octavian, made a priest at the age of 15, was appointed to a postion of senior millitary command in Julius Caesar's expedition against Parthia by the age of 18, and following Caesar's murder he commanded those armies and defeated Caesar's assasins in a civil war alongside Mark Antony. Octavian then marched on Rome and demanded that he be made consul, later agreeing with Mark Antony to divide the Roman Empire between them, with Octavian taking the Western empire, and Mark Antony the East. When he later had the opportunity, Octavian took on Mark Antony (aged 48) and captured the Eastern empire. Having defeated all of his domestic opponents on the battlefield he assumed unrivalled personal control of the Roman Empire, effectively abolished the Republic and established a monarchical dictaorship, became the Emperor Augustus and officially the son of a god. Aged 19. Young people these days, eh?

As with Octavian, such adolescent power-trips usually happened to children from backgrounds of privilege - they were groomed for political office and given opportunities denied to most. There are of course many cases of children treated in this way who turned out to be monstrous tyrants or hopelessly incompetent. But the point is not that a dictator from the ancient world is a good role model for contemporary teenagers (don't try this one at home, kids), but that in times past, it was not uncommon for people of a very young age to assume serious administrative responsibilities and to show themsleves to be rather effective.
It might suprise many to know that in mediaeval England, for instance, it would not be unheard of for 12 year-olds to be given such tasks as collecting taxes or raising armies across several counties - and being perfectly able to do it. By contrast, in 21st century Westminster, it is virtually unheard of for an MP to be appointed to the cabinet before the age of 36 - and that would be considered young, even embarassingly young.

The West's most famous love story, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is another interesting example. This play is widely loved and performed but few realise that Juliet is supposed to be 13 years old, and her Romeo 16. Theatres rarely put on a performance with a thirteen year-old Juliet - who falls in love, marries, takes a drug in order to feign suicide and but ends up taking her life through a misunderstanding or a sixteen year-old Romeo, a philanderer who falls madly for Juliet, marries her secretly, commits murder, flees into exile and then commits suicide. If they did, they would remind us that childhood is indeed longer now than it used to be. Girls in particular effectively became adults as soon as they reached puberty and were married to much older men in a manner that would now be an imprisonable offence. This was not, incidentally, a good thing - but it serves to remind us that what we now consider childhood is a great deal more artificial than many of us realise.

A slight change of subject - touch therapy. Touch therapists tell us that our bodies are surrounded by a bio-energy field or aura and that imbalances in the aura can be the cause of physical ailments, from burns to cancer. They claim that by using their hands to manipulate this undetectable aura and smooth out its imbalances they can heal serious physical conditions.

Touch therapy is popular - it is practised in 80 hospitals by 100,000 practitioners in North America alone, and taught in 100 colleges and universities. It is also complete nonsense. A few years ago, one bright US scientist, Emily Rosa, from the town of Boulder in Colorado, thought of a rather simple way of putting touch therapy to the test. Her experiment was uncomplicated - she invited 80 touch therapists to demonstrate their powers with a double-blind test. Emily would sit at a table with a cardboard screen in front of her in which there were two holes. She would place her hand over one of the holes, chosen randomly each time. The touch therapists would put both of their hands through the holes and feel for Emily's bio-energy field and then tell her which hole she has holding her hand under, while she recorded the results. Many of the therapists expressed confidence that they would be right every time. In the event - to their great shock, they were correct less than half of the time (44% over 280 tests). They performed just a little worse than one might expect from chance. Their powers were non-existent.

What makes this especially interesting is that the scientist, Emily Rosa, was nine years-old and carried out the tests as a fourth-grade school science project. She bought the materials for the experiment for ten dollars. Afterwards, with her mother, a nurse, and a medical statistician to help her with the format, she wrote up her experiment as an article for the Journal of the American Medical Association. The article was subjected to peer review and the editors of the journal declared it to be "solid gold". Emily Rosa became the youngest scientist in history to have an article published in a major medical journal. She was later awarded $1,000 by the James Randi Educational Foundation to help her in more research projects.


Emily Rosa, 9

Think about this for a minute - the many, many adults who practice touch therapy, put themselves thorugh it and testify to its healing power and have spent much money in the process all can vote. Emily Rosa, who devised an experiment that proved that touch therapy is a fraud and got it published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, can't.

The view expressed earlier that, "Kids now-a-days only care about what they are wearing and girls/guys" should be seen for what it is, a nasty piece of prejudice. Kids only care about clothes and the opposite sex in the same way that women only care about gossip and shopping, black people only care about sport and music and Jews only care about money - it's called negative stereotyping, and it's often considered bad form, though young people have to put up with it all the time.

And it comes at an odd time - in Britain, we have just witnessed an almost unprecedented involvement of children in politics in the build-up to the Iraq war. In early 2003 as preparations for the US and British invasion intensified, there a was a widespread feeling of unease over the coming war in Britian and much organised opposition, culminating in the anti-war march on February 15th 2003 in London in which as many as 2 million people may have particiapted, joined by millions more in cities around the world.

Less well-known, however, is the role played by children in this. Children were the most vehemently anti-war age category in the country - a survey carried out by Newsround, the children's news-show on the BBC, found that 80% of the children surveyed opposed sending troops into Iraq and found only 10% in favour. On Wednesday March 5th, 2003, young people across Britain organised a nationwide walk out of schools in order to protest against the coming escalation of the war. Thousands participated and children's protests took place in London, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Milton Keynes and Cambridge. They engaged in sit-down protests, blocking roads and facing arrest.

This is a Newsround report on the March 5th protest in London:

The whole thing was sparked off by the power of e-mail! Newsround spoke to one of the kids on the protest. She told us that she had received an e-mail telling her what was going to happen. The message said that kids should protest outside Parliament about the war, and when they should do it.

The e-mail quickly went round hundreds of kids all round London. She described how, in her playground at break time the next day, a bunch of kids brought out banners they had made, and walked out.

Almost the whole school followed!

Their teachers tried to stop them, but the children ran to the Underground. The children started protesting in Parliament Square, but were moved on by police at 1pm.

This was the only national strike against the war - and the participants were usually aged between 18-11. No other sector of British society engaged in this level of protest or took this kind of risk. The children made history - and they were not thanked for it. Two students at a Leeds grammar school, Sachin Sharma and Carey Davies, both aged 16, were suspended for organising a walkout at their school as headteachers across the country moved to clamp down on this unexpected militancy. Sachin complained:

"The majority of our school does not have democratic rights. They have no means to express themselves, and they don't have a voice in real terms. The only way we can, as minors, express ourselves is through demonstration." (emphasis added)

The head teacher, John Steel, responded:

He added that while the pupils' political beliefs were valued, the curriculum provided the proper channels for the expression of those beliefs.

Now can anyone explain in what way the curriculum provides channels for the expression of political beliefs? It doesn't of course - the curriculum is a collection of material that children are supposed to have thrust on them as a matter of law. It provides little room for _expression of any kind, let well alone a channel for active opposition to government policy. The pupils' political views are valued - just so long as they do nothing to act on them.
It may be that you think these children were quite wrong about Iraq - but the main issue here is that they evidently had serious interests well beyond football or TV, or blagging their way into pubs, or Big Brother, or smoking weed, or what they were wearing or losing their virginity at the earliest possible juncture and they tried to act on it at some risk to themselves. If the government had been prevented from taking Britain into the war, Tony Blair might have been forced to say "And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for those meddling kids!"
And given that this week, US military losses just reached, and quickly passed, a thousand dead, while the Bush administration has admitted to "miscalculations" in its occupation of post-Saddam Iraq and that it no longer controls much of the country or even the capital - can we not admit that those kids had a reasonable point?

Young people on the march in Madrid, many placards, no votes

Children are, of course, greatly affected by politics. No one has ever consulted children about the level child benefit should be set at - but they are directly affected. They are also affected by health, prison, social welfare, immigration, investment and environmental policies among others. Which is not to mention education policy - the latest government white paper on education was introduced with much discussion about the role of head teachers, the role of the private sector, the workload of teachers, parental choice - all important matters for sure, but it is rather significant that one set of people's views and role was not discussed. Children are expected to be passive recipients of the outcome of whatever is decided for them.

After the Beslan massacre of schoolchildren in Russia it seems rather weak to suggest that politics is not the business of the young. The Iraq war affects children here too, not least the brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of those coming back home in coffins - a pretty large number for the Coalition as a whole and perhaps set to get quite a lot bigger. One Scottish girl, Maxine Gentle, aged 14, has just recently had to cope with the loss of her older brother, Private Gordon Gentle, whose short life ended at 19 outside Basra in southern Iraq in June. She wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister which was published in some national newspapers, of which some extracts are reprinted here:

My feelings are that I think you are rubbish at your job. You don't care about the British public, armed forces or anyone in fact.

My big brother died at the age of 19, and what for? A war over oil and money, that's what I think this war is all about...

I think you should withdraw all of our soldiers from Iraq... My big brother meant the world to me. I looked up to him with pride because he made something of himself. He was well known, just like you, but everyone liked and loved him, not like you, because I have no respect for you, and nor do a lot of people I know.

Gordon had only passed... in April, and yet by May YOU sent him and many others to a war zone.
What I find strange is that in order to be a qualified plumber or electrician you need to train for 3 or 4 years, but to be a qualified soldier, and learn to KILL someone, you only need to train for SIX MONTHS!

...everyone is hurting badly right now, but you would not know that because your sons are all tucked up nicely in bed at night, at the same time as there are mums and dads who still have sons over there, who can't sleep at night, wondering if their loved ones are coming home or are they going to be the next ones to be killed...

...It is okay for you sitting there with all your money and power, ruining people's lives by the decisions YOU make... All you and your new "best friend" George Bush care about is Iraq's oil... Nothing you can do or say will change my mind, or the fact that I am hurting badly inside. I cry myself to sleep most of the time because Gordon has gone and is never coming back...

...I am ashamed to admit being British when I have got such a bad prime minister as you...

Yours sincerely Maxine Gentle

Maxine has pretty strong political views - and the loss of her brother is a matter that clearly affects her. But she can't vote for or against the government that sent her brother to Iraq. Can we really argue that there is a good reason for this?


Private Gordon Gentle, killed in southern Iraq, June 28th, 2004

At a school like mine, many of the children come from non-English speaking backgrounds and learn English as a second language (or sometimes as a third, fourth or fifth language). Since some of their parents cannot speak English and many members of staff cannot speak Turkish, Albanian, Somali, Vietnamese or Spanish, the children are required as intepreters - instantly translating from one language to another at our request. In many businesses and restaurants where the owners speak very little of the language in the country where they work, the adults commonly rely on the fast-learning children to speak to customers and vice-versa. This is just one of the ways in which children - when given the opportunity - can prove especially competent in tasks for which competent adults are hard to find and much sought after. Operating computers is another example - many adults are notoriously reliant on their sons and daughters to show them how they work. Children have many skills and abilities which are often taken for granted and forgotten by adults who choose to see children as a burden, a nuisance or a threat.

Some decades ago, Dr. Suzuki, a Japanese music teacher, became famous for helping very young children learn to play difficult music on the violin. The US educationalist John Holt (himself a cello player), visited a performance while Suzuki went on tour with some of his pupils in the USA:

"A few years later, when a group of these chidren came to the New England Conservatory on a tour of the US, I was there to hear them, along with several hundred others, many of them music teachers. The children, perhaps twenty of them, came onstage, healthy, energetic, and happy. At the time I thought the average age of the children might be five or six; I now think they may have been a year or two older. Dr. Suzuki and a young assistant checked the tuning of the children's violins. We waited in great suspense. What would they play? Perhaps some of the slower and easier tunes of Vivaldi, Handel, or Bach? Dr. Suzuki gave the down beat, and then away they went - playing not some easy tune but the Bach Double Concerto, in perfect tune, tempo, and rhythm, and with great energy and musicality. It was breathtaking, hair-raising. I could not have been more astonished if the children had floated up to the ceiling."

These children were not unusual, nor were they made to perform through parents yelling at them to practice from as soon as they learned to walk. Suzuki showed that children surrounded by music at a very early age and encouraged to experiment with musical instruments could become competent at playing very difficult pieces on a notoriously difficult instrument by the age of six.
Children have the potential to really startle us in many, many ways if grown-ups are ready and willing to let them.

In practical terms, allowing children to vote would be a simple matter - we would simply extend them the right and allow them to exercise it if they made a request to be on the electoral roll. Schools, youth clubs, public libraries and so on could have the information and application forms ready along with notices and posters telling people of their voting rights. The forms could be made available on the internet.

Some children have problems with reading - this should not be an obstacle to letting them vote if they want to, since illiterate adults are allowed to vote and many countries such as South Africa have developed systems to make voting simple for those who are unfamiliar with it or might have trouble understanding the ballot papers. Inside the polling station, people could be ready to help younger children - better still if older children were employed for this task, answering any questions young voters had - where to go to, how to mark the ballot and so on.
There is the problem that children might be pushed into voting a certain way by their parents. This should not, however, be used to prevent all children voting. Many adults vote the way their parents do but many children - as in the case of the Iraq war, for instance - are quite capable of making their own minds up about important issues, as much as any adult. Furthermore, in a society which accorded children greater respect, forcing them to vote in a certain way will become as socially unacceptable as announcing that you hit your child with a belt when they answer you back.

Maybe some six year-old will apply for voting rights and vote in a frivolous manner but the harm done by such an unlikely event is not very great and the possible benefits of inviting the very young to take the world around them seriously and to think how they might like to change it are considerable - above all, we will be telling children that we think their feelings actually matter. Which will be new for many of them.

There are of course many other areas in whch our attitudes towards the young should be examined and quite a few other practices that may end up going the same way as practices like tying children's hands underneath opposite ends of their beds to prevent them sucking on their thumbs. But allowing children who want to vote to do so as a matter of right could be a small step to prompting adults to take children more seriously. If children thought about how they could use their vote, they might even get politicians to think about them as people rather than photo opportunities.

And on another positive note, politicans kissing babies will be less intolerable when the babies have the right to eject them from office as soon as is feasible.
____________________________________________________________
Alex Higgins

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Buell Duncan, IBM's general manager of ISV & Developer Relations commented, "Collaborating with Keyvelop will ensure that we develop open solutions that are easy to maintain and cost effective for our customers in the healthcare and life sciences industry."
Among other things, this new software technology which is currently being used by a number of European healthcare companies, is used to send any file, regardless of format or size. Encryption keys, evidence of transmission integrity with fingerprint calculation, time-stamping of all actions and status record updating, pre-checking sender and receiver identities, validating file opening dates are part of Keyvelop features.
About FacePrint Global Solutions, Inc.
FGS operates a business, which develops and delivers a variety of technology solutions, including biometric software applications on smart cards and other support mediums (apometric solutions). FGS's products provide biometric solutions for identity authentication and a host of smart card- and biometrics-related hardware peripherals and software applications. Apometrix, FGS's wholly-owned subsidiary, combines on-card or in-chip multi-application management solutions with best-of-breed 'in-card matching' biometrics. Keyvelop's secure digital envelope solution and Apometrix's on-card biometrics work together to produce the winning combination in the fields of security, traceability and identity management. FGS is headquartered in Fresno, California.
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