The paper attempts to propose, in our view, the most effective mechanism for improving children’s well-being and solving children’s problems in the new century, -- namely, children’s suffrage exercised by children’s parents or legal guardians. The paper analyzes the social, political and moral necessity of children’s suffrage, and its connections with the constitutional and electoral laws. The paper outlines a spectrum of the positive effects the law of children’s suffrage may have on all societal spheres, and social obstacles to its adoption. This paper is the theoretical basis for conducting of the international sociological research of the attitude of population to children’s suffrage.
Keywords: children’s suffrage exercised by their parents or guardians; children’s suffrage law; child’s vote.
Children’s importance for society is reflected in an old adage “children are our future.” Everything in society depends on what becomes of children. The quality of children’s lives determines the quality of society’s future, its people, culture, politics, and economics. Children are the beginning of everything. This is an axiom. It reflects the vital importance of children for society’s future. But the future originates from and is being shaped today. One would assume that because of this, society is to give primary consideration to the situation and welfare of children today and put it at the top of the agenda. However, obviously, children are not a primary concern. Children remain a low-priority issue for governments and linger in the backyard of society. The most authoritative international documents confirm this.
For instance, the UN Special Session on children (May 2002), initiated by UNICEF and attended by 180 States, arrived at the following distressing conclusions. The final Declaration of the Session pointed out that the current tendencies for economic globalization have resulted in the “deterioration of the situation of the young generation.” This was underscored by the following figures:
“More than 10 million children die each year although most of those deaths could be prevented; 100 million children are still out of school, 60 per cent of them girls; 150 million children suffer from malnutrition; and HIV/AIDS is spreading with catastrophic speed.” “So far we have failed to combat poverty, discrimination and society’s neglect of children. Investments into social welfare are still insufficient. The childhood of millions continues to be devastated by hazardous and exploitative labor; the sale and trafficking of children, including adolescents, and other forms of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence.”
Faced with these facts, the UN Special Session called upon “all members of society” to join the “global movement that will help build a world fit for children” (italics added). So, it is indirectly acknowledged that the world we have is unfit for children.
We witness the same situation with the principle implied in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child -- “for children - the best,” which means that so far children have not at all been getting the best things. This foundational international document emphasizes children’s paramount importance, their right to special care, special safeguards, to the maximum extent, the best possible maintenance, etc. Here we quote some provisions of the Convention.
“Childhood is entitled to special care and assistance”. “The child... should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding”. “The child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection” (Preamble). “In all actions concerning children... the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration” (Article 3.1). “States Parties... shall undertake such measures (for realizing children’s rights--L.S.) to the maximum extent of their available resources” (Article 4). “The best interests of the child will be their (parents or legal guardians--L.S.) basic concern” (Article 18), etc (italics added).
As is evidenced by the statistics and facts, both in poor and rich countries, care provided for children (and the children’s sphere) by families, society and governments is insufficient. The children’s sphere is the most important section of the social sphere, because of its function of population reproduction. It embraces from 20 to 35% of the population under the age of 18 (majority) in different countries of the world. The children’s sphere encompasses all the factors and resources of childhood: family, birth and mortality rates, pre-school education, school-level education, child healthcare, children’s leisure, children’s sports, etc. It encompasses the problems of the child: pre-school and school upbringing and education, obstetrics and healthcare, birth and mortality rates, summer vacationing, leisure and sports, orphanhood, homelessness, drugs, crime, prostitution, labor of children under age 14, etc. In all countries, children’s problems have a tendency to grow and become more exacerbated. Families and the state today fail to satisfactorily handle children’s problems by old, traditional means. In the modern, post-industrial world the family, the child and the state have changed cardinally, while the methods and mechanisms of handling children’s problems, and the importance attached to them, remain the same as centuries ago.
Politically, children are relegated to the backyard and form a big political “black hole.” In legislative organs, children’s interests are not represented by deputies who are accountable to children. Children have families to care for them, but the means of the families are very limited, which is evidenced by a growth of juvenile delinquency, drug addiction, prostitution, sickness rates, homelessness, etc. Families fail to handle these problems, and so one is led to believe that children are deprived of adequate care by society and the state. So, children remain in fact the population’s most marginal social group, which results in an accumulation and exacerbation of social problems, and worsens the quality of life for populations and individuals. The more marginal children are, the more inferior their quality of life is, the more marginal the future of humankind and of individual countries is bound to become. The quality of population depends on the quality of children’s upbringing, education and health, for which families, society, and the state become increasingly responsible. An especially large share of the responsibility is incumbent on the state, given its wealth of resources for handling children’s problems.
Unfortunately, not a single nation in the world today places children’s problems in the forefront. Economic and military problems continue to dominate. This has been a strategy of industrial societies over the last two centuries. However, in the second half of the 20th century the developed countries started to promote a slogan of “social state,” “social democracy,” meaning that social problems are receiving primary consideration. However, in fact, even in these countries the situation remains the same, and not a single nation regards children’s problems as a high-priority issue. Nearly all nations continue to handle children’s problems through the traditional mechanism of residual federal financing. This mechanism has been especially typical for the former Soviet republics, and especially for Russia. The current strategy is to give an overwhelming priority to economics, which results in a residual financing for the children’s sphere. Conversely, giving priority to the children’s sphere is overwhelmingly a strategy of the future. Nations today prefer the strategy of today, rather than the strategy of the future, which leads to an aggravation of children’s problems and a crisis for society. The state presently does not have an efficient instrument for solving children’s problems. The state directs its efforts to the consequences, rather than to the causes, of child problems. Why has such a strategy prevailed? Because the democratic election process inherited from industrial society, is seriously flawed. The present concept sets forth a thesis that children’s suffrage, exercised by parents and legal guardians, is an efficient instrument for eliminating this flaw and an effective tool for handling children’s problems at the state level.
The history of suffrage has been diffusive: wealthy adult males were the first to get the vote, eventually all adult males, then women, then the young over the age of 18. Modern suffrage is a legacy from a disappearing industrial society. For more than two centuries the vote has been gradually shedding its numerous restrictions -- racial, property, gender-related, etc. The last remaining restriction, age qualification, holds. Children under 18, who constitute about one quarter of the population, remain in the “black hole” of suffrage. The “black hole” in suffrage leads to a “black hole” in politics and the state. So, an outrageous unfairness towards and discrimination against children persists.
Becoming a nation’s citizen from birth, a child becomes a voter only after 18 years, as if in the intervening years the child lives outside society, is not its member, does not have problems and needs, and does not do anything of social importance. In fact, children do the most important thing: they reproduce themselves as a nation’s major human resource, the one that is later to reproduce ALL of the nation’s resources, and on which, therefore, the nation’s future TOTALLY depends. Why then don’t we see deputies elected on children’s behalf who will represent children’s interests in the legislative organs of democratic nations? Why is it that every other population group has its interests represented, while children’s interests are not represented and basically excluded from politics in general? What accounts for this is a deeply-rooted electoral tradition, a legacy of industrial society, which allows ONLY for direct and single voting: every able-bodied citizen has only ONE vote, (s)he may vote only in person, on his/her own behalf, never on anyone else’s. Such is the major voting principle of modern democracy, a principle formed in the industrial society. At a first superficial glance it seems quite fair. However, a closer examination reveals that this principle is fair for adults ONLY and not for children.
Children, from birth, are members of society and citizens of a nation. Like adults, they have pressing needs and engage in a wide spectrum of daily activities. They do something which is very important for society: they reproduce themselves as a major social resource. They are engaged in socializing themselves. And this activity is just as important as any other socially useful activity. Moreover, for society, the socialization of children and the younger generation is a most important life-spring, which determines society’s future and its quality. The process of socialization is very difficult and arduous for every child. Children’s socialization is needed not only by children but by adults, by society in general, as well. And if socialization requires an efficient political instrument, such as children’s suffrage, then society should add it to its political process. So, there is a social necessity for children’s suffrage.
Its political necessity arises from the fact that the political process of a democratic government is flawed and inefficient without children’s suffrage, without having the vote granted to nearly a quarter of the population excluded heretofore. Democracy’s completion and maturity is predicated on the completion and maturity of citizens’ suffrage. Suffrage is the beginning and the fountainhead of democracy, the gateway to it, whose quality and breadth determine the quality and breadth of a democracy. Contemporary suffrage is restricted to adults, and excludes children under age 18, who make up nearly 25% of the population; and for this reason contemporary democracy, from the viewpoint of suffrage, is only 75% complete and mature. Suffrage is a principal resource for the formation of power structures in a democratic nation. And if one quarter of this source is blocked, and people -- the source of power -- are “shortened” by one quarter, then the quality of a democratic government is significantly lessened in comparison with the possibilities of its completion.
Children, as well as adults, have their special interests. Politically, children’s interests must be taken into account as much as adults’ interests. Children’s suffrage, secured by law, has an enormous political significance, as it broadens and deepens democracy, lending to it a child’s kindly face. Through children’s suffrage, democracy broadens its resource base, people, to include the totality of its population. Democracy needs children’s suffrage as much as children do. Adopting children’s suffrage is the only way for democracy to prove its viability and to show contemporaries that, paraphrasing Winston Churchill, although it is the worst form of government, all the others that have been tried are worse still. Such is a general political necessity of children’s suffrage. Politically, suffrage must be made more inclusive.
There is also a moral and psychological need that stems from the two needs outlined above. We talked earlier about the social unfairness of the key principle of suffrage upheld by modern democracy, a principle that completely excludes children from politics. As is well known, because of their age, children are unable to politically articulate their interests. This principle allows adults to ignore children’s interests in the electoral systems of democratic nations and to deprive children of the vote. However, children’s inability to articulate their interests does not mean they should be deprived of the vote. Is it fair to deprive children of the vote only because they are unable to articulate their interests? If children’s problems and interests are as important as those of adults’, then, for fairness sake, adults, rather than exclude, should incorporate children’s interests into the political sphere; rather than deprive children of the vote, should give it to them. If we are to follow this line of thinking, adults, rather than barring children from participation in election, should HELP them to participate, ASSUMING, as parents or legal guardians, the task of articulating children’s interests by way of ELECTING fitting parliamentary deputies, who would promote children’s interests in the legislative bodies of the government. Helping children is a moral and psychological obligation of adults, parents and guardians above all.
Children’s suffrage is called for by globalization and a qualitatively new postindustrial, informational society. Progress of the global world toward social harmony and equality and elimination of injustices inflicted by globalization are impossible without a systemic political monitoring of the interests of children who make up approximately a quarter of the global population. Globalization of economics, politics, science, and education, along with an informational revolution and acceleration of the pace of life; transition from a law-based democracy to a social one; aggravation of the problems that younger generations and young families encounter; the increasing importance of education, the rise in visibility of the social sphere, the strengthening of civil society, a shift in global strategic interests from confrontation to cooperation -- these, and many other factors, call for an extension of suffrage to include children. Only children’s suffrage can help ensure that children’s interests are incorporated into politics internationally on a systemic basis. Therefore, children’s suffrage, if adults approve it and grant it to their children and grandchildren, should be secured in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and in the relevant laws of different countries around the world. The global world and global democracy require a new suffrage, new electoral system, free from all restrictions, including the age qualification. It may be that children’s interests can be placed in the forefront only at a global level. But time will show which level, global or local, will prove more sensitive to children’s interests, to their suffrage, and at which level an introduction of children’s suffrage will start.
(Russia, as an example. Other countries need individual consideration)
Constitutional and electoral legislation are the legal factors that have paramount importance for introduction of children’s suffrage. Obviously, if society and governmental institutions recognize the social, political, moral and psychological necessity for children’s suffrage and deem it necessary to secure it legislatively, then it will become possible to introduce appropriate amendments into constitutional and electoral legislation. But before broaching this subject, we should determine at first whether the constitutions of individual countries have provisions conflicting with children’s suffrage and how rigid age qualifications are in their electoral legislation. Below we examine, from this viewpoint, the relevant legal documents of Russia.
The Russian Constitution states that children are citizens of the country whose “fundamental human rights and freedoms are inalienable... since the day of birth “ (Article 17.2). One of these rights is suffrage -- “the right to elect” (Article 32.2). The Constitution does not provide an age qualification for the right to elect. Thus, the Constitution does not deprive children of the vote, it does not contain such a prohibition. So, in Russia there are no constitutional obstacles to children’s suffrage and an adoption of the relevant federal law. Introduction of children’s suffrage would not require any amendments to the Russian Constitution.
However, the current federal election legislation provides for an age qualification or age-based restriction to the right to elect (Federal Law of the Russian Federation of June 12, 2002). The age qualification conflicts with the Constitution, which recognizes that citizens from birth have the right to elect; it conflicts with the definition of citizenship in the citizenship legislation, as well as the key definitions of the election legislation. Below we examine these definitions and the contradictions.
“Voter means a Russian Federation citizen who is entitled to an active electoral right” (Article 2.18). But individuals become citizens from birth, therefore, children have the vote to, i.e. they should be voters, but they aren’t.
“Active electoral right (“active suffrage”) means the right of a Russian Federation citizen to elect to bodies of state power and bodies of local self-government” (Article 2.26). It follows from here that children have suffrage to.
“A citizen of the Russian Federation shall participate in elections on the basis of universal, equal and direct suffrage by secret ballot” (Article 3.1). Children are citizens, therefore, they should participate in elections.
“Universal Suffrage and Right to Participate in Referendum: A citizen of the Russian Federation who has attained the age of 18 years shall be entitled to elect, vote at a referendum” (Article 4.1). HERE IS THE AGE QUALIFICATION! UNIVERSAL suffrage turns out to be NOT UNIVERSAL, but RESTRICTED exclusively to citizens over the age of 18.
And now we sum up the analysis of the articles of the election legislation concerning age qualification. It would be not unwarranted to say that this legislation, depriving children of the right to elect because of age, politically discriminates against children and violates the Russian Constitution. The election legislation does not address the major real conflict between children’s citizenship and the impossibility for children to exercise their right to elect, which, as citizens, they have from birth. The legislation does nothing but complicate the contradictions. There is only one remedy for this: in view of children’s incapability (inability to make decisions and choices independently), the right to vote and the exercise of this right should be SEPARATED. Children have the right, while parents/guardians should assume the task of exercising it. But to achieve this, parents/guardians, the state and society on the whole need to have a moral and political WILL to eliminate electoral discrimination against children, to recognize children’s right to vote, and to restore this right as one of the basic human rights, which children enjoy from birth and which is inalienable from them.
A special federal law, which we would call ‘Children’s Suffrage Law’, is needed in order to materialize the will, if there is one, and to separate children’s suffrage from the exercise of it. The current election legislation should be amended to conform to the Children’s Suffrage Law. Below we examine more fully the content and meaning of the proposed law.
A legal tool for children’s suffrage is the federal Children’s Suffrage Law. This law is to become a legal mechanism for implementing the right. Below we formulate the meaning, major principles and notions of Children’s Suffrage Law.
The political meaning (function) of Children’s Suffrage Law consists in a formation, at every level of the legislative branch of a democratic government, of a stable parliamentary majority (more than 50% of deputies). This majority includes approximately 25% of deputies elected by children votes, and over 25% of deputies elected by parents/guardians. We’ll call these deputies, elected by the votes of children and parents/guardians, “children’s (or youth’s) deputies.” So, children and their parents/guardians constitute the social buttress/base of this majority, a base only Children’s Suffrage Law can create. The function of children’s deputies and relevant factions and committees in legislative organs at every level is to create a permanent and efficient federal system which would handle children’s problems, i.e. eliminate or suppress social causes of the problems. Major principles and notions of Children’s Suffrage Law:
1. “The major principle of Children’s Suffrage Law”: CHILD IS GRANTED THE RIGHT OF THE VOTE (or to participate in referenda), WHICH SHALL BE EXERCISED BY THE CHILD’S PARENT OR LEGAL GUARDIAN. This principle reflects the bifurcation of children’s suffrage: a) the right of vote/choice; b) the right of voting/electing, i.e. to exercise the right of vote/choice. This is bifurcation of an abstract right and its real exercise (participation in voting, in election). This principle ensures an equality in and meaning for society of the children’s interests by way of granting children the vote, though not the right to exercise it, because they cannot realize this right due to their age-specific incapability.
2. “Universal suffrage, children’s suffrage, adults’ suffrage, adults’ suffrage tied to their children” are four different but interconnected notions. Adults’ suffrage is the right enjoyed by citizens above 18 to vote on their own behalf, to be independent voters. Adults’ suffrage tied to their children is the right of citizens above 18 to vote on their children’s behalf. Children’s suffrage is the right of citizens below 18 to have the vote and to be dependent voters. Universal suffrage is the right enjoyed by the totality of population and it includes both the vote and the right of voting. It does not allow citizens to vote on behalf of other citizens, except on behalf of their children below 18.
3. “Independent voter/elector” is an adult able-bodied citizen who has the vote and the right of voting, both on his/her own behalf and on his/her children’s behalf. “Dependent voter/elector” is a child who has the vote, is entered into electoral register, but does not have the right of voting, the latter right being exercised by his/her parent/guardian. Under certain circumstances a dependent voter can become independent. Children’s Suffrage Law should have a clause stipulating that in exceptional cases a special commission may allow gifted children aged 10 to 18, if they wish so, to participate in elections independently, after taking an appropriate examination or a test.
4. Children’s suffrage is the right of vote for child/children below 18 reflecting the fact the child has (is granted) the vote that this right is given to the child. Children’s suffrage can be only active, but not passive, which means that children have only right of . choice/vote but have no right to be elected. Herein lies the main distinction between children’s suffrage and adults’ suffrage (about other distinctions see below).
5. In those countries, which are likely to use Children’s Suffrage Law as an instrument for limiting birth rates and stabilizing the population amount, Children’s Suffrage Law may contain the notion of “potential and actual children’s suffrage.” Children’s Suffrage Law may include clauses limiting the number of children on behalf of whom a parent may vote -- this defines the actual children’s suffrage. Potential children’s suffrage applies to all children, while actual children’s suffrage applies to only a limited number of children, those on whose behalf the law allows to vote. In the countries in question, a certain amount of children will not be entered into electoral register and receive actual children’s suffrage. Under certain circumstances, e.g., in a case of a child’s death or the birth of a new child, potential children’s suffrage and actual children’s suffrage can transform into one another. Conversely, when a nation wants to boost its birth rates, it does not limit the amount of children with actual votes, and the law would not contain the distinction between the potential and actual rights.
6. “Adults’ suffrage tied to their children” is the parents/guardians’ right to exercise their children’s suffrage. This right means that able-bodied parents/guardians assume a certain amount of votes, equal to the amount of children they have (unless the law restricts the amount). If a child is orphaned, does not have any of the parents left, or his/her parents are deprived of parental rights, then (s)he is assigned a guardian who is to exercise children’s suffrage. Adult spouses with children are to independently decide how (taking turns or permanently, in equal parts or not) they will be exercising their children’s suffrage. An appropriate decision with regards to this, which can be changed at any time, spouses shall write down, notarize and turn in to a local election board. If a parent is below 18, then his/her right tied to his/her child will be delegated to the parent’s parent/guardian.
7. “Parents/guardians’ obligation to exercise their children’s suffrage “ implies not only an entitlement, but also a parents/guardians’ obligation to vote for own children. Nobody understands children’s interests better than parents/guardians. Nobody else would be able to make the best possible choice among the candidates in the child’s interests. For this reason the obligation to exercise children’s suffrage is put on children’s parents/guardians. Because of the social importance of this duty, any evasion from it, except when for valid reasons, is punished with a fine. The law should provide for a listing of the valid reasons and the penalty amount. On the other hand, in order to motivate parents/guardians, it would be useful that the law provide for incentives, e.g., work or tax benefits, a small financial reward for the exercise of children’s suffrage, etc.
8. “Principal executors (subjects) of children’s suffrage” are children’s parents/guardians. Parents/guardians are the most active group of a population, mostly between ages 18 and 60, a majority of whom are young persons between 18 and 35. At this age, most people start families, give birth to children and bring them up in the early, most important, stages of life. Thus, children’s suffrage is important, first of all, to young people, to all parents/guardians; but it also assigns them certain responsibilities. Politically and legally, parents/guardians are key figures in two aspects: a) as agents of implementation of children’s suffrage; b) as participants in elections, where they are to have, by law, in addition to their own vote, their children’s votes as well. This means that approximately 25% of the population, a group made up of parents/guardians, is to possess (control), together with their children’s votes, more than 50% of ALL votes. Some may consider this seeming disparity unfair, but as we showed earlier, only this proportion is fair to children.
9. “Restrictions on the parents/guardians’ right to vote on their children’s behalf” should be introduced for parents who are alcoholics, drug addicts, etc. Children’s Suffrage Law should envisage a mechanism restricting (through the amount of children, benefits, time) or annulling their right to vote on their children’s behalf upon a request from the organs of education or local self-government. For the most hardened cases of alcoholic parents, the law should envisage an accelerated procedure for depriving them of parental rights. Such sanctions against alcoholic parents are due to lead to a decrease in their number and to improve the psychological climate in such families.
10. In every nation, the issue of adoption of children’s suffrage and Children’s Suffrage Law should be put up for a national referendum, after conducting relevant sociological studies. The referendum should be preceded by a far-reaching, intense and long (at least year-long) campaign explaining the social and political benefits of a Children’s Suffrage Law.
The Children’s Suffrage Law outline presented here, complemented with sanctions against its abuses, will create a necessary legal mechanism for regulating the EXERCISE of children’s suffrage. All social effects that Children’s Suffrage Law may produce are harmless, but as with any law, it can be used in nationalistic, racist and similar anti-human or mercenary purposes, and in those cases, the perpetrators, not the law, should be held accountable. Therefore, Children’s Suffrage Law should provide for sanctions against those who abuse it. The only drawback of the law, which is bound to evanesce soon, is its novelty, unusualness.
Below we examine more fully the main function of Children’s Suffrage Law. This law creates a unique political opportunity to have a majority (over 50%) of parliamentary seats at all levels taken by children’s deputies, elected by the votes of children (approximately 25% of the electorate) and of their parents/guardians (more than 25% of the electorate). Of course, this is an optimistic estimate, because in reality hardly all parents/guardians will be participating in elections. However, because other groups of voters do not participate in elections to their full capacity, either, the probability of children’s deputies taking a majority of seats in parliaments is very high and bound to increase concurrently with an increase in parents’/guardians’ voting activity. A parliament where children’s (or youth’s) deputies make a majority is bound to give first priority to children’s problems both by raising its visibility and by augmenting the federal financing. Top-priority budgetary financing of the children’s sphere is the main, most effective consequence of children’s suffrage. It is a key way of improvement of children’s well-being in an age of globalization.
“Children’s” (or “youth’s”) parliamentary majority is due to create the much-needed system of sustained and efficient handling of children’s problems. So, Children’s Suffrage Law is to become a legal guarantee that children’s problems receive a primary consideration. It will also provide an instrument for creating an efficient system for handling the problems, a system addressing, first of all, the causes of children’s problems. Without Children’s Suffrage Law, children’s problems will NEVER be a priority, will NEVER have a permanent and efficient mechanism for addressing the issues and providing a top-priority financing. Without Children’s Suffrage Law, the situation of children in the world will NEVER qualitatively change for the better, and all children’s rights stipulated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are bound to remain tokenistic.
Children’s problems are systemic. This means that they, on the one hand, are a product of all branches, spheres and institutions of society, and on the other hand, have a reverse negative impact. Therefore, a resolution of children’s problems is not something that can be achieved by separate parliamentary committees or commissions, by separate ministries or departments of state. A systemic nature of children’s problems requires an equally systemic mechanism for grappling with them, a mechanism to be built and fine-tuned continuously and across the whole spectrum of society’s spheres, state ministries and departments. At all levels of government, only a parliamentary majority can handle this task. And ONLY a Children’s Suffrage Law, as appropriate election legislation, can help create a parliamentary majority that will systemically address and give a primary consideration to children’s problems. Thus, Children’s Suffrage Law is an instrument for a high-priority, and systemic, across the whole spectrum of government departments, handling of children’s problems. Creating a systemic mechanism for handling children’s problems is a long-term and extremely complex project, requiring a permanent, legislatively secured buttress, which only Children’s Suffrage Law can provide. Without this Law, no such mechanism is possible.
A Children’s Suffrage Law, as a systemic law transforming electoral and political systems, has a huge spectrum of positive social implications, some of which -- those not discussed earlier -- we want to emphasize. We have tried to group these effects into those affecting individual spheres of society, and those affecting society in general. So, the adoption of this law and creation, on the basis of this law, a governmental mechanism for high-priority and systemic handling of children’s problems:
For society in general:
In the social sphere:
In the cultural sphere:
In the organizational sphere:
“States Parties shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in the present Convention... to the maximum extent of their available resources...”, as well as a violation of the Human Rights Declaration principle that children are entitled to a “special care.”1 (Italicized is what State Parties fail to accomplish.),
In the economic sphere:
In conclusion, we want to emphasize that adopting a Children’s Suffrage Law is the only way to build a “world fit for children,” to eliminate “poverty, discrimination and society’s neglect of children” and to overcome the “deterioration of the situation of the young generation.” Deprived of suffrage, children, in fact, do not enjoy other rights stipulated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child either, the Convention’s provisions being mostly ignored by most nations, as the UN Special Session pointed out. In this hopelessly irreparable situation, Children’s Suffrage Law becomes, in fact, a driving force for all the child’s rights.
As demonstrated above, Children’s Suffrage Law leads to a radical overhaul of the political system and society in general, to their cardinal modernization, to a legitimate re-distribution of power and wealth in favor of children and children sphere. For this reason, Children’s Suffrage Law is bound to encounter a correspondingly powerful opposition, because normally “the force of counteraction is equal to the force of action.” So what are the roadblocks?
A first, and the most powerful social obstacle is a centuries-old entrenched psychological tradition of neglecting and discriminating against children in politics, of an unchallenged supremacy of adults. This tradition is very deeply rooted in the minds of modern people, having been nurtured as it was, over millennia, by the past agrarian and industrial societies, used to ignoring children’s interests in politics. It will be very difficult to turn around the mass mentality, although the modern life has already undermined it. The younger generations are more apt to shed this mentality, rather than hold on to it.
Second. Children’s Suffrage Law is bound to encounter resistance from those groups, which presently own the bulk of the state budget -- officials (bureaucrats), state security forces, the military-industrial complex. Children’s Suffrage Law will entail a re-distribution of the government money in favor of children, and this is due to encounter resistance among powerful social groups.
Such are the main roadblocks and opposition forces, which Children’s Suffrage Law is apt to encounter. However, parents, low- and middle-income groups, especially young people and women, people employed in the social sphere (teachers, doctors, etc.) are bound to see in this law a powerful instrument for raising the well-being of their children and families, and a majority of them will surely support the law. A series of sociological studies is planned now for investigating this issue.
Children’s suffrage is one of the logical outgrowths and applications of tetrasociology.2 Tetrasociology is a postpluralist (i.e. based on a definite number of society’s dimensions) “grand theory” and a multi-dimensional model of society in 24 parameters of four-dimensional spatial-temporal metrics. The author has been working on the theory in Russia for more than 25 years. The theory started to be known in the West in 2002, when a book about it was first published in English (Semashko, 2002). Although tetrasociology originated in Russia, it is not a national, but rather, international and tolerant, paradigm. It belongs to Western culture, continuing and developing the “tetrary,” four-dimensional, pluralist tradition of Western thinking, a tradition originating from Pythagoras, Empedocles, Plato and Aristotle in the antiquity, and then on to M.Weber, Braudel, Parsons, Toffler, Bourdieu, Giddens, Sztompka and Castells in the 20th century. Tetrasociology rests on these giants’ shoulders and draws on the ideas of many other scholars as well. Among the latter, we want to point to C. Wright Mills’ idea of sociological imagination (1959), Bernard Phillips’ web approach (2001), Jeffrey Alexander’s cultural sociology (2003), Reimon Bachika’s universal values (2003), Martha Ross DeWitt’s power sharing (2000), Craig Calhoun’s cultural difference and historical characteristics (1995), Jonathan Turner’s four emotional forces/resources, Fritjof Capra’s four social perspectives (2003), Bernd Hornung’s (2002) and Bernard Scott’s (2000) sociocybernetical straight connections and feedback, and many others.
Tetrasociology’s chief achievement consists in a discovery of particular sphere classes3 of population, differing by the main employment in one of society production spheres and constantly trying to achieve social harmony, overcoming the other social groups’ disharmony and unequality. Tetrasociology recognizes children as equal in rights participants and members of sphere classes, first of all of social class, which is employed in people reproduction. (Tetrasociology uses the notion of “social reproduction of people,” which embraces all sections of social sphere: education, health, religion, leisure, sports, etc. This concept should not be confused with the concept of biological reproduction, which refers only to birth rates.) Children are equal with other people with regards to the reproduction of the self. Children are employed in reproduction of themselves, and for society, this is the most important function. If children are recognized as society members, equal with other members in reproductive employment, if they are recognized as citizens from birth, then they should also have from birth the right of vote in a democratic nation. Tetrasociology distinguishes between children’s suffrage and election employment (participation in elections), which is a characteristic of adults alone. The separation of children’s suffrage from the exercise of it by parents/guardians is based on this distinction.
As we emphasized above, children and their parents/guardians are to become the social base/buttress of a parliamentary majority to be created by Children’s Suffrage Law. This social base is unusual and can be explained only from the position of tetrasociological sphere classes. Children and their parents/guardians have a sphere-based social structure and belong to sphere classes employed in social reproduction spheres. Children belong to the social class, but they prepare themselves for employment in all four sphere classes, while parents/guardians already belong to sphere classes and are employed in them. Thus, the social base including children and their parents/guardians is common for all countries of the world, rich and poor, big and small, and, therefore, this base too is global and harmonious. Children’s suffrage share these characteristics.
This theoretical source of children’s suffrage is connected with the paradigm of systemic political thinking conceptualized by Prof. A.I.Yuriev (1992) within a political psychology framework. The political-psychological aspects of children’s suffrage call for additional research.
Children’s suffrage has a big impact on other civil rights and liberties, abolishing restrictions imposed on those by the age qualification. Here are several important points.
A) The age qualification bounds so universal a value as love for people, and, in particular, reciprocal love between parents and children. The age qualification bars parents from channeling their love and care for children into politics. Children’s suffrage abolishes this restriction and enables parents to wield a powerful political tool of electoral system for the affirmation of their love for children.
B) The age qualification limits people’s freedom and prevents parents from realizing the freedom of making political choices for their children’s benefit, i.e. the most humane aspect of this freedom. Children’s suffrage, conversely, abolishes this curtailment of freedom, humanizes and significantly expands freedom, complementing it with a qualitatively new kind of freedom -- freedom to elect on one’s children’s behalf.
C) The age qualification encroaches on equality among people, leads to a patent political discrimination against children and shrinks the political salience of children’s interests. Children’s suffrage, conversely, eradicates discrimination against and political inequality of children and equalizes children with all other population groups in so politically significant a right as suffrage.
D) The age qualification raises insurmountable obstacles on the path to fraternity of the humans, social justice and harmony. Children’s suffrage, conversely, abolishes these obstacles and helps make a considerable progress along the road, the social significance of this advancement being very simple, but profound: if children are having a better life, all people are bound to live better too.
Thus, children’s suffrage, abolishing the restrictions imposed by age qualifications on civil rights, liberties and universal human values, and humanizing the quality of the understanding and usage of those, itself becomes a new right, a new freedom and a new universal norm of the globalization era. Children’s suffrage modernizes and elevates the principles of “freedom, equality and fraternity” to a new humanistic level. Children’s suffrage is a qualitative transformation of this society’s rights, freedoms and values.
Alexander, J. (2003) The Meanings of Social Life. A Cultural Sociology. Oxford University Press at the UN Special Session the World Leaders Promised to Make “World Fit for Children,” (2003) “One Country,” Moscow, April-June
Bachika, R. (2003) Tetrasociology and Values. In: Semashko L. Tetrasociology: from Sociological Imagination through Dialogue to Universal Values and Harmony. St.-Petersburg State Polytechnical Univ. p.191-195
Baranov A. (2001) Depopulation, a social challenge to the government. Zvezda, N 1, pp. 172-179.
Calhoun, C. (1995) Critical Social Theory. Culture, History, and the Challenge of Difference. Blackwell Publishing
Capra, F. (2003) The Hidden Connections. A Science for Sustainable Living. Harper Collins Publishers Constitution of the Russian Federation. (1994) Moscow
DeWitt, M. (2000) Beyond Equilibrium theory; Theories of Social Action and Social Change Applied to a Study of Power Sharing in Transition. Lanham, MD: Univ. Press of America
Federal Law of the Russian Federation of May 31, 2002: On Russian Federation Citizenship
Federal Law of the Russian Federation of June 12, 2002: On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Rights of Citizens of the Russian Federation to Participate in a Referendum
Hornung, B.(2002) Emergence - A Key Concept for Sociocybernetic Theory of Information Society, Paper presented at the 15th World Congress of Sociology, Brisbane, July 8-13, 2002, RC51 on Sociocybernetics
Mills, C. (1959) The Sociological Imagination. New York: Oxford Univ. Press
Phillips, B. (2001) Beyond Sociology’s Tower of Babel: Reconstructing the Scientific Method. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter
Scott, B. (2000) Cybernetic explanation and development, Kybernetes, 29, 7/8, pp. 966-994
Semashko, L. (2002). Tetrasociology: Responses to Challenges. St. Petersburg: Technical Univ.
Semashko L. with co-authors (2003) Tetrasociology: from Sociological Imagination through Dialogue to Universal Values and Harmony. St.-Petersburg State Polytechnical Univ.
Turner, J. (2003) Face to Face. Toward a Sociological Theory of Interpersonal Behavior. Stanford Univ. Press U N Convention on the Rights of the Child. (1995) Protect me. Moscow
Yuriev, A. (1992). Introduction to Political Psychology. St. Petersburg Univ.
1. Of all social groups, the Declaration confers on children alone the right to “special care,” which, however, the state still fails to give them. So, the governments violate this international norm.
2. In total, the author has published about 40 papers and five books on Tetrasociology, the last two of which have been translated into English, see below.
3. Existence and dynamics of the sphere classes on an example of Russia prove to be true by statistical researches in the book (Semashko, 2002)
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