Nothing to be apathetic about

The sight of thousands of children taking to the streets of our
cities in protest at the military attack by Britain on Iraq has
challenged the view that today’s youth are interested only in
TV, fashion and mobile phones.

These young people have been spending their evenings writing
slogans such as “we refuse to study while Iraqi students are being
bombed” on their banners. And as our Young People’s Voices
column illustrates, these children can’t be written off as a
middle class minority. Children from a range of backgrounds feel a
deep sense of responsibility for the actions of their government,
and a belief that they have a duty to protest.

How ironic that the white paper on antisocial behaviour with its
draconian sanctions against children who miss school and their
parents should be published in the same week that children were
walking out of school to mass outside Downing Street. Despite the
existence of the Children and Young People’s Unit there is
little evidence in the White Paper that government has listened to
young people. True, the proposals to reform the 14 to 19 school
curriculum recognise that school seems boring and irrelevant to
many young people. But the working party established to develop the
new curriculum has no one representing pupils themselves.

The Electoral Commission is reviewing the minimum age for voting
and standing as a candidate in elections, which means that in a few
years politicians may be wooing 16 and 17-year-old electors. The
evidence of the past few weeks is that young people do care very
much about what happens in the world. To ignore their experiences
and views risks creating more disenchantment and cynicism.

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