Around the World:
Children’s Suffrage: Giving 16 Year Olds the Right to Vote
By: Carrie Seleman
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “the will of the people shall be
the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine
elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage” (emphasis added). But what constitutes
equal suffrage? Although the majority of the international community restricts this equality
requirement to adults, countries across the globe are slowly beginning to extend the right of
suffrage to their younger citizenry.
The first recorded proposition in favor of youth suffrage was made by Nelson Mandela in
1994, who recommended lowering the voting age to 14 in recognition of youth who fought against
Apartheid. Since then, 26 countries have decided to allow 16-year-olds, 17-year-olds, or both to
vote in some capacity, many with conditions attached, such as being employed, being married, or
limiting the right to local elections only. Additionally, since the turn of the century, there have
been at least 33 movements and proposals across 17 countries to lower the voting age.
Malta, for one, just joined the ranks of nine other countries across the world that allow 16-
year-olds to vote in national elections, no strings attached (a few countries – Bosnia and
Herzegovina, Serbia, and Slovenia – only allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote if they are employed).
The sentiment that these teenagers can contribute to the Maltese political agenda is one held across
party lines. The first official recommendation to lower the voting age in Malta to 16 came from
the Ministry for Family and Social Solidarity in September 2016, contained within a draft National
Children’s Policy document. One and a half years later, on March 5, 2018, the Maltese Parliament
made suffrage a reality for 16- and 17-year-olds. The Parliament surpassed the two-thirds majority
vote needed to pass the Constitutional amendment, voting unanimously in favor of lowering the
age for citizens to participate at the polls. As a result, an additional 8,500 Maltese citizens will
have their first opportunity to vote during the 2019 European Parliament elections.
Only one other European country, Austria, currently allows this younger age group to vote
in national elections, although it is part of a small global group consisting of Argentina, Brazil,
Cuba, Ecuador, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Jersey, and Nicaragua. Proponents of lowering the voting
age to 16 argue that it would have a positive impact on electoral participation, saying that voters
under the age of 18 are likely to be in school and live with their families, two factors shown to
encourage turnout through socialization mechanisms. Proponents also argue that lowering the
voting age may facilitate early development of a habit of voting and see children’s suffrage as a
way to ensure that interests of young citizens are represented in the political system. Opponents of
allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote claim that people under the age of 18 lack the ability and
motivation to participate effectively in the electoral process, which would lower turnout rates.
Opponents also believe that citizens under the age of 18 would not make use of their vote as
effectively as older voters and would not challenge the government to respond to their interests.