Henry Humpleby, a student at De La Salle College, discusses the importance of including young Islanders in discussions of politics and Island Identity.
Our Island's identity is made up from a combination of factors including our culture, traditions, history and language. It is a unique jigsaw that brings us all together. It requires input from different pieces of the jigsaw, made up by everybody who lives on the Island, including young people who play an important role.
Although 'putting children first' is one of the Government's top priorities, are children and young people being given the opportunity to advance our Island Identity? Although previous Governments have tried to involve young people by lowering the voting age to 16, setting the groundwork for a youth parliament and developing a digital and public engagement strategy, young voters are still disenfranchised and disconnected from the political system at large. Clearly not enough has been done.
There is a significant issue in how to encourage young people to get involved. Somewhere along the line we have hit a roadblock, but in order to fix this it must be understood why failing to involve young people in politics is an issue in the first place.
In a functioning democracy, not only is it a right but it is also a responsibility to get involved and have a say in order to best represent yourself and everyone around you. This is specifically true for young people; by voting, speaking out about injustices and supporting pressure groups and societies, young people can ensure that their voices are heard, and actions taken to support them. This will prevent others from making decisions for them, now and into the future.
However, encouraging youth participation is not just a one-way street. Young people make up a large proportion of society, and their political involvement doesn't just benefit themselves and those who are already politically active. They can bring fresh ideas and varied experience to the table, which could be essential to finding solutions to tricky problems, in order to benefit the majority of Islanders.
For all of the reasons there are to get young people involved in politics, nothing will change without the implementation of clear and comprehensive policies that focus on increasing voting and political involvement from a young age.
One idea, that has only recently become practicable with the advent of a number of new political parties being formed in Jersey, would be the formation of youth political organisations. These do not need to be youth political parties, but they could be organisations with party affiliation. Political parties inherently have an interest in getting people involved in voting, and so by having a youth political organisation it is guaranteed that it will encourage voting among young people, which will provide benefits no matter who they vote for.
A youth political organisation like any youth organisation also encourages friendship, collaboration and the building of shared interests and so, these organisations would hopefully have a substantial positive impact on Island politics and Island life.
Another initiative to improve youth political participation could be skills training by politicians. Instead of having teaching and activists speak to children about voting and developing political skills, the politicians themselves must get involved. This would not only raise awareness of who they are and their cause but would also help to translate required political awareness and essential skills to young people, in preparation for future political participation.
However, politicians and parties are not the only ways to raise youth political awareness and participation. Young people themselves, who are advocating political involvement, must be supported by the Government. For example, youth volunteering initiatives and community programmes should be sponsored and funded by the Government. Politicians must also show support for these organisations when they are founded or fully fledged, in order to support those young people making a difference.
Alongside direct policies such as funding, introducing youth representatives and establishing youth political organisations, the mere act of increasing the Government's social media presence may help encourage young people to participate. By raising awareness of the Government's use of social media, young people may be aware of where to vote, figure out who to vote for and how they can get involved in other ways.
Whilst it is encouraging that the Government supports initiatives such as project Trident and internships, these opportunities could be extended further and promoted more widely. For example, political parties and ministerial departments could also offer to take on more interested young people.
Students may be able to experience the functions of Government, but political education must also come to them. Consideration should be made for introducing civic studies and elements of citizenship education into the curriculum, particularly in relation to Jersey's unique political history and identity. One global example is Australia's youth enrolment campaign, which educates young voters with fun activities.
It may also be worthwhile considering and adopting some more radical approaches to encourage youth participation. For example, Uganda has 5 youth representatives assigned to its Parliament, who are far more relatable, thus allowing them to further advance political participation among younger people. While 5 representatives may be too many in our small parliament (Uganda's parliament has 529 members), one or two may be sufficient to improve the image of Jersey's Parliament as a representative body for all.
We must recognise that shaping the identity of our island is dependant on the contributions of all members of our community. The best way to do this is to develop new ways to engage young people and to consider their ideas.