We know the UK isn’t great at asking young people their views under Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), or more generally in upholding our responsibilities under the UNCRC. In fact in the most recent KidsRights Index, the UK had dropped from 11th best to 11th worst performing nation (out of 165 countries) and was “urged to do more to foster the rights of their youngest generation”.
And here we are, with Brexit being the biggest decision in living memory which will impact young people in all manner of ways for many years to come, and we haven’t yet asked young people what they think about it, or what they want to happen.
Asking young people their views is routine for any other area that affects them (both at strategic and individual levels) and is a foundation of good practice across the youth sector. At a national level, no significant area of youth policy or law could be brought in without including the thoughts and voices of the young people themselves. There are numerous benefits to doing this and it is also of course rooted in international law, in Article 12 of the UNCRC, which states ‘Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.’
So it is clear that we have to very quickly now engage with and hold a vote, amongst young people age 11-18, to understand and quantify their views. I can think of no other way that we can credibly gather their views and ensure that young people are listened to both individually and collectively. The same argument applies to also hearing from 18-20 year olds who were too young to have voted in the June 2016 referendum.
I hope that a few large youth sector organisations will come together and coordinate the process and vote: in schools, youth clubs and Universities across the country. I suggest the vote takes place in October. If nearly a million 11-18 year olds voted last year in Make your Mark, then surely a similar number could be engaged to discuss and vote on Brexit. Not on the terms (which are still very unclear) but on whether they think it should happen at all – do they want it or not?
We have a moral, pragmatic and legal duty to hear what young people think about Brexit. Obviously, it won’t be binding; it will however be very interesting and enlightening, providing a clear steer on their views which are to be given due weight in this most fundamental decision which directly affects them.
It is time that young people had their say.