Civil and political rights

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What is the issue?

Civil and political rights are among the best known human rights, covering freedom from discrimination and the right to privacy, as well as the right to peaceful assembly, free expression, the right to vote, and freedom of religion. But children’s civil and political rights are systematically denied to them, and with little justification, despite international human right law enshrining these rights for everyone. And this is a major reason why children’s rights continue to be widely unfulfilled.

What is the problem?

Under-18s represent almost a third of the world’s population, yet unlike adults, they have no say in the rules and laws that govern their lives or in deciding who gets to make them.

No country in the world allows under-16s to vote in national elections, and only a few allow suffrage to children aged between 16 and 18 at national or municipal levels. Children’s participation in protests is often banned, discouraged or threatened with penalties. Children face the imposition of religious views more frequently and in more settings than any other population group, whether it be because of an official state religion, parents passing down their religious beliefs, or religion being taught in schools. Countless activities ranging from filing a lawsuit to gaining access to information on the internet require parental consent, making children’s participation reliant on their parents’ permission and disposition.

Taking a look at how a society views children’s civil and political rights is a good gauge of how that society views children - as rights holders or merely as the property of their parents.

What is the solution?

Governments need to recognise that children’s human rights do not just relate to protection, welfare and education; children have civil and political rights too, enshrined in international law. To improve respect for children’s civil and political rights States should:

  • Right to vote: Allow individuals to vote as and when they choose to do so and are able to register for voting. Such a method would eliminate the use of arbitrary age restrictions which ignore the wide range of skills and competencies possessed by children of different ages and life experiences.

  • Encourage voting: Increase the opportunities for young people to register to vote through schools, at local authority level, and through other institutions to ensure all children are included.

  • Active citizenship: Schools and other educational bodies should promote active citizenship education on democracy and politics, including education on human rights.

  • Freedom of religion: children can be introduced to the faith of their parents and involved in religious activities, but must increasingly be given control over their own involvement in their parents’ or any other religion or no religion.

  • Access to justice: Allow children to bring cases in their own name where they are assessed to be competent to do so, without resorting to age as a measure of maturity.