Home / View Point / Guest Columns / Salaam: Mr President, don’t rush our children into adult decisions; why we should not lower voting age

Salaam: Mr President, don’t rush our children into adult decisions; why we should not lower voting age

“Good idea!” was my initial reaction when I read that President Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona is advocating that 16- and 17-year-old citizens have the right to vote for their leaders. I can think of no argument against involving youths in initiatives and activities, especially sporting and cultural ones, which require them to cast a vote for the peer(s) whom they think should act as their leader(s).

But reading on, I realized that the President was not talking about some adolescent or school activity involving elections; he was recommending a lowering of the national voting age in Trinidad and Tobago from 18 to 16.

Photo: President Anthony Carmona (left) and his wife Reema Harrysingh-Carmona (centre) arrive in Buenos Aires for an international friendly between Trinidad and Tobago and Argentina in June 2014.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/TTFA)

Surely, Mr President, you cannot be serious.

It’s one thing to have 16- and 17-year-olds visit the Parliament and behave like politicians in mock parliamentary debates. It is, however, an entirely different colour of horse to throw them in the deep end of adversarial politics.

Mr President, I’m sure you are aware that children under the age of 18 are not currently allowed to buy and/or consume alcohol, to purchase cigarettes to smoke, to place a bet on a Play Whe mark or to consent to sexual relations. If they are not trusted by their parents and by the society to do these things, can we seriously consider letting them vote?

Are you suggesting that deciding who is/are the best person(s) to run the country is a less weighty decision than whether to put a dollar on Big Snake or Little Snake, Old Lady or Jammette, King or Queen?

Mr President, we talk glibly about the right to vote but it is arguably more of a privilege; it is not to be taken for granted or abused. We, therefore, should be careful not to place it in the hands of the uninformed and uninterested. Or those we have reason to suspect are unmature or unresponsible.

As things stand in T&T, many adults have no interest in exercising the franchise for which, let it not be forgotten, blood has been shed. How often over the past many years has the turnout on election day exceeded 50%?

Photo: An ILP supporter declares his allegiance to local political wildcard, Jack Warner, before the 2015 general elections. (Courtesy ILP)

But giving the franchise to 16-year-olds, some will perhaps argue, will change that. Some will point to the positives, such as a possible increase in voter turnout if children between 16 and 18 are allowed to vote. It is conceivable, I can hear those in favour saying, that the eagerness to demonstrate that they have moved out of childhood into adulthood will ensure that a large majority of these young people will actually exercise their franchise.

Why do you adults want to thwart meaningful change by preventing youths from expressing themselves? Don’t young people have rights?

Yes, they do. But participating in the voting at national elections is not one of them. In Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, we read that the document “…recognizes that the level of a child’s participation in decisions must be appropriate to the child’s level of maturity. Children’s ability to form and express their opinions develops with age and most adults will naturally give the views of teenagers’ greater weight than those of a pre-schooler, whether in family, legal or administrative decisions…”

 So, Mr President, instead of wasting time and energy advocating a lowering of the voting age, I submit that you can more usefully be advocating wider protection of the rights of the legal “child.” These include—but are not limited to—the right to free education, the right not to be hurt and mistreated, physically or mentally, by the many merciless predators in our society and the right to get information that is important to their health and well-being.

Photo: Trick or treat!
A ball boy runs for cover during the 2015 First Citizens Cup final at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

If you are genuinely concerned with the election trends in so far as the turnout is concerned, you might want to focus on enhancing the quality of the voting pool by seeking to motivate citizens who already qualify for the franchise under the existing rules. In that regard, the move to have a NOTA option on the ballot paper may be something you want to give some more thought to supporting; it would encourage those who are not happy with what is on offer to still be a part of the process.

Voting, you see, Mr President, is a serious responsibility. Those who are deemed to be mature enough to carry the stresses and assorted heavy burdens that come with adulthood really should be encouraged not to take it lightly.

Of course, to choose not to vote at all is also a legitimate exercise of free will. But it is a choice which children, free-spirited and unstressed, are arguably not likely to be mature enough to make.

I think we would be better off allowing 16- and 17-year olds to continue enjoying the freedom to be unmature children.

About Salaah Inniss

Salaah Inniss
Salaah Inniss is an ardent writer with an enthusiasm for bringing insightful views on national issues. He graduated from Cipriani College in Environmental Management, and is presently working in the Integrated Facilities Building Service Industry. He is an empathetic supporter of conservation and the protection of the environment.

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  1. In Trinidad and Tobago, the age of criminal responsibility is 7 years.

    If we can hold the little blighters to account and sentence dem to hang at that age, why can’t they vote??

  2. But it can’t be just one thing that changes. Our inherited electoral system is broken. Lloyd Best had great ideas on how it could be restructured e.g. voting for individuals rather than party. I don’t remember the specifics but it made a lot more sense than the one we currently have.

  3. Politics is never about maturity, it’s all about the sheep……….6 weeks old sheep?

  4. “Are you suggesting that deciding who is/are the best person(s) to run the country is a less weighty decision than whether to put a dollar on Big Snake or Little Snake, Old Lady or Jammette, King or Queen?”

    ‘Big Snake?’… “Jammette”?… Isn’t that how the politicians’ themselves describe each other?… So to answer your question, yes, sadly a choice of what mark to play is about as weighty as a choice between the PNM and the UNC lol. Probably more so because with Play Whe you have more to choose from and you can actually win something.

    Let’s not kid ourselves (or should I say kid ourselves?)… the level of political discourse in our country is definitely immature enough for 16/17 year olds to take part.

  5. Although the issue is voting rights at 16, I’d like to point out that our adolescents are having sex but are not even given (legally denied) the right to access Sex education, care and or treatment, without the consent of a parent or guardian. TT says No to sexual and reproductive rights for adolescents. IMO, our president and citizenry would be better off if we took our collective heads out of the sand and ensured they had the right to prevention interventions, allow them to make informed choices and reduce teen pregnancy, New hiv infections in youth and equip them with life skills around SRH. Before we start to talk about voting rights.

  6. Our PISA scores are horrendous, but some think this is a good idea. But then again the country is falling apart and some believe we are an intelligent society.

  7. They lowered the voting age from 18 to 16 for the Scottish Referendum, I personally don’t see anything wrong with it. It can even be argued that a good many 16 and 17 year olds have more sense than older voters, having not be tainted (painted?) by politics.

  8. And remember who we talking about right I doh give he a second thought the kind ah poppycock he does saying

  9. We teach our children not to take what’s not their own, they grow up into adults who steal from the mouths of children… Maybe children should choose our presidents?

  10. This is a UNC – United National Congress ploy that was in the making.

  11. I do agree with this article as I believe 90% of our 16 and 17 years olds do not even think along these political lines and what we will be introducing is another generation of party voters. As the majority will be voting for whom ever their parents influence them to vote for.

    Question to seriously think about. How many of us have done things at the age of 16 and 17 and look back now and think what was I thinking, even decisions at CXC at the time and now that you’re older you understand why you should have done it differently. Even serious life altering decisions like who we date. In recent times we see how that ended for some young ladies (in death), before they can even see their 20th birthday.

    Are we really ready for them to make decisions on our economy, our education system which they are still are part off and don’t even know if it’s working for them or not, our relationship with other nations etc?

  12. I think we should actually raise the voting age and also have people pass an exam on the political and socioeconomic history of this country before they can vote.

  13. Dat making sense to he alone. What an eejatic line of argument.

  14. Look at some of the children’s ads. You have a voice for what. Contributing to your development or what.

  15. Before they go to parliament they need to do public speaking, critical thinking and some real drama classes. I love the youth but they not ready to vote.

  16. These people at the top really missing some screws or what..with all due respect..but when comments like this is made you MUST think something is wrong

  17. Orin Gordon, you just brought up some key points which bring into focus what the REAL qualification for voting is. It is not age but INTELLIGENCE and as you put it being “switched on”. So maybe what is actually needed is a Voting Competency Test.

    Does the person even know the basic Historical, Political, Civic ramifications of the vote?

    • The flipside to that is I don’t know that education has necessarily created better people. So making the ballot an affair for more intelligent people won’t necessarily mean a better government either.

    • Lasana Liburd Maybe intelligence is a trigger word. I don’t necessarily mean educated in the traditional academic sense.

    • Intriguing question, Jessica Joseph. Look, I think there are some sound arguments against, but my POV comes down on the side of including them.

    • Jessica that would mean a very interesting test indeed. Lol. I agree with you in theory though.

    • Do people voting even KNOW the actual role of the people they vote for and the limits of their power? Do they know their Constitutional Rights as a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago?

    • We wouldn’t want a system that makes it too easy to disenfranchise voters though. Because they will definitely ignore the non-voters. And many of the people who get to vote will turn a blind eye to those “other” communities–that have large numbers of ineligible voters–in a heartbeat.

    • Lasana Liburd So we have to educate people and empower them. That has to be the other prong of having a Minimum Civic Awareness Requirement for voting.

    • We have to be careful about what qualifications we impose, though. In the US, in the past, you couldn’t vote if you didn’t own property. Currently in many states felons and people with criminal convictions (however slight) can’t. Are there others in T&T besides age? Asking for a resident non-national.

    • Jessica if a man decides he doesn’t care about the intricacies of politics. All he wants is to vote for which person is more convincing when they say they will fix his pothole.
      Well, that man will be out if he refuses to engage in anything that he doesn’t see as a direct benefit to him.
      As much as I hate that such voters have equal say at the ballot, I’m worried that leaving them out can have bad outcome.

    • Orin Gordon I agree. The qualifications cannot be material, ethnic, cultural or class-based.

    • Lasana Liburd Not the intricacies of politics. His role and rights as a citizen and their role and limitations as leaders. Basic, basic stuff. Primary school social studies stuff (at least back in my day).

    • Jessica, EVERYTHING beyond “what yuh giving me and where to put the X” is intricacies to some people! Lol

    • Lasana Liburd Then we need to educate them because they more than anyone else get the shaft anyway.

    • Jessica, since democracy is about numbers and there are more uneducated voters than educated ones… Then who do you think really gets the shaft?
      I agree that we need to start empowering voters eh. I agree with the thinking. But I’m not keen on disenfranchising.
      I feel we just have to make the education process as attractive as possible. Rum and roti and pelau with a side order of knowledge.

    • Lasana Liburd Yup, I agree with you 100% I think the shift towards a more informed vote does not have to involve disenfranchising but raising the standards for everyone, especially the MPs. Make rum and roti shameful. Have zero tolerance for it. Ask them tough questions. Make the debate. Simultaneously, educate the most disenfranchised about what REALLY affects them. Also, make them less dependent on the Government to fix everything for them. Bring in ethical corporations who which to invest in people, culture, resources and let them work DIRECTLY with communities, no Government needed.

    • Strengthening local government is a step in the right direction. But I agree with you. Our current system builds up these mini-gods and demagogues. And where has that gotten us?

    • Lasana Liburd They are treated like “Cult Figures” and not civil servants employed by WE the People.

  18. He isn’t out the door yet!!!!!! Steuuppsssss

  19. Is this parody? Terribly patronising. The Parkland survivors in Florida, who are of the same age, are showing tremendous courage, savvy and leadership and moving the needle on guns, one of the most intractable issues in American politics. At 16, you CAN think for yourself, even if you can’t legally buy a Carib. El Pres may unintentionally cause more waves than he’d like, but he’s right on this one.

    • So…why isn’t 16 the age of majority? Why at 16 is one still considered a child?

    • At 16, they’re old enough and smart enough to make political choices.

      • While I don’t entirely disagree with you, perhaps I should point out:
        At 16/17, the majority of teens are in school, busy with academic and vocational studies, hardly having time to pay attention to the political circumstances in the country, much less pay attention to individual issues, unless in passing.

        They are also prone to peer, parental and other pressures which can slew their choices.

        Most are unable to reason properly, having neither the life experience or critical thinking skills (not taught in schools by the way) so necessary to handle analytical reasoning.

        Yes, this applies at age 18 years also, but the powers-that-be (no, NOT Carmona) have determined that 18 years is old/mature enough to be responsible fully under the law (the background to this would take up a thesis).

        So, unless the State wants to raise the voting age, then the idea that the ‘full adult’ of 18 years who is a fully recognised legal individual, is the most sensible choice.

    • You make an excellent point Orin. However, one must also take into consideration that the Parkland survivors were middle class, privileged students at a high performing school with educated parents. They were in AP classes. They were in debate, drama and arts and given the tools to express themselves and learn critical thinking.

      Is this the same opportunty afforded to all 16 year olds in Trinidad and Tobago?

    • It isn’t. And not just in T&T. It’s a strong example of what 16 and 17 year olds can bring to the table, but it’s not meant to be all encompassing. My experience is that a great many young people that age are pretty much switched on, including politically.

    • Honestly Orin, that isn’t my experience. My experience is that children that age are still finding themselves and don’t really grasp how the world works yet. They’re trying to pass exams and work out what is cool, what is safe and what is both.
      I’m a little concerned about adding having to select a MP or Prime Minister to that workload.
      I wonder what politicians might offer that demographic between 16 and 20. There’s a thought.

    • At that age, I prefer to call em young people, not children. 🙂 They are (those who do) going into Lower 6th, actively entering the workforce, or rowing into their career streams through study choices. They’re ready.

    • Based on the age that you start school now, most 16 year olds are in Form Four, Orin. In between deciding on their subjects, they must head out at night to hear the speech from a potential MP. With mammy’s permission of course. :-/
      I disagree. There will always be exceptions. But I think there aren’t enough to make that a good idea.

    • Speeches from MPs aren’t really all that intelligent either. Serious issues aren’t really discusssed. Promsies, rhetoric, mudslinging, emotionalism and entertainment more like it.

    • No wonder young Trinis mock the whole thing

    • You don’t need to attend rallies to vote, Lasana Liburd. The vast majority of people don’t.

    • Orin so we don’t expect the young uns to be educated voters then? If so, then why not. They could probably flip a coin in the voting booth and, in so doing, apply as much rational sense as more than half our voters.

    • No, not what I’m saying, breds. In this social media age, you’re seriously telling me that young people dont have more than enough access to the info they need to make informed choices? 😳

      • Earl Best

        If you put silk in a toaster oven, will you get a fancy dress? It’s not the availability of the information that is the crucial factor, it’s the mechanism you need to make sense of it.

        That really ought to be obvious to anyone with more than two brain cells.

    • Give me poll numbers that show young people are discussing politics and I will agree to that. Because you can bet your posterior that dey ent using the social media to discuss the budget or anti-gang legislation.

    • Violence against women? Proper resourcing of schools? Education? Gun crime? Are you sure?

    • Orin, would you say 12 year olds have the same issues? What’s the difference?
      Finding a way to give students a meaningful say in the running of schools or the education system is something I’d wholeheartedly support.
      But I don’t think that equates the right to vote. It’s not like we vote for an Education Minister anyway. But even if did, the view of a 16 year old is just too blinkered in my opinion.
      An older voter has the benefit of being a former student as well as a member of the working class.

    • But we’re not talking about 12 year olds. we’re talking about 16 and 17 year olds. 😳

    • If you want to apply that to 16 or 17 year olds then why stop there if the same thinking can go all the way down to 12?
      My view is their thinking at that age is too blinkered. And it is supposed to be blinkered.
      Let them enjoy the last of their youth. Don’t create a feeding frenzy now with politicians searching for ways to get into their space to bring them out on election day.

      • If i go with Orin’s rationale, then it’s ok for my 16 to be sexually active and have babies. I think not and that is because at that age they do not see the bigger picture. Most and dear I say all of them see things in their own space and how it directly affects them. Not because they may be aware of certain things and can have a meaning conversation about it, means that they truly understand what they are talking about.

    • Mr Gordon please do not compare our 16 and 17-year-olds with their counterparts in either the USA or any country in the developed world. Have you really listened to our kids speak, their lack of sophistication about any current affairs? Indeed, even our 21-year-olds sound ignorant concerning our politics or politics anywhere for that matter. Having said that, judging from the discourse on FB we could say the same about many of our adults. lol

    • PS it was a 16-17 year old that killed those kids and all other school shootings.
      If they can vote then they can serve in the military also. Just want to point out the one side argument you bringing