The concept of children having particular rights is a relatively new one. Traditional attitudes towards children tended to consider them as mere extensions of the household and 'owned' by their parents and/or legal guardians, who exerted absolute parental control. Views began to change during the Enlightenment, when tradition was increasingly challenged and the value of individual autonomy and natural rights began to be asserted. The "Foundling Hospital" in London was founded in 1741 as a children's home for the "education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young children". Thomas Spence, an English political radical wrote the first modern defense of the natural rights of children in "The Rights of Infants", published in 1796. Please read more about the history of children's rights movement here.

Children's suffrage idea dates back to 1873. It has been discussed in literature as "Demeny vote", "proxy vote for children", "parental vote", "children's vote", "youth suffrage" and in Germany as "kinderwahlrecht". Originating from France together with the women's suffrage idea and having been in limited form adopted in the interwar period in French protectorates of Tunisia and Morocco, it has thus by now been discussed for over a century with the biggest research contributions coming from USA, Hungary, Japan, Germany, Austria and Canada. In 1923 the French National Assembly voted in favour of children's voting right by vast majority (440 vs 135 votes) - but the proposal was never incorporated into the law due to political changes in the country. 

A good historical perspective on why Western countries overall extended the voting rights to include more citizens in the 19th century is presented by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson in "Why did the West Extend the Franchise? Democracy, Inequality & Growth in Historical Perspective" (5). The authors argue that it was done for economic and political reasons in order for the "political elite to prevent widespread social unrest and revolution".

 

The best-known recent contributor to this discussion about children's suffrage has been Hungarian-American demographer Paul Demeny, whose work from 1986 (1) onwards has given the name to "Demeny vote" term, which suggests giving half a vote to each parent for each under-age child. Professor Miles Corak discussed "Demeny vote" in 2012. Demeny voting would imply introduction of the proxy vote for children. In many countries proxy voting in general and local elections is not allowed. In Britain though there is a long and successful tradition for proxy voting dating back to 16th century: please read more here

Considerable research on Demeny voting, including voting behavior simulations, has been done recently in Japan, where population aging and poor economic growth have been worrying decision-makers. Demeny voting in Japan has been suggested by economics professor Reiko Aoki (3, 4) as a remedy to low birth rate.

In Gemany the topic of "kinderwahlrecht" has been seriously discussed during the recent decades with two votes in Budestag having taken place in 2003 and 2008.

Contemporary view on "Should chidren be given the vote?" is well summed up by economics professor Miles Corak in his 2013 TEDx talk.

Philippe van Parijs (1999) (2) discusses in-depth the origins and early history of the children's vote:

 

The idea was born in France mostly with pronatalist motivations. "The earliest proposal was made in 1873, shortly after Prussia’s victory over France, by Henri Lasserre, “the universally known historian of Notre-Dame de Lourdes”: in his proposal, every French citizen, whatever his or her age or gender, is given one vote, with the (male) head of each family exercising this right to vote on behalf of his wife and each of his children. The proposal was hardly noticed, however, except by the philosopher Gabriel de Tarde, who took it over enthusiastically as a way of enforcing a concern for the interests of younger and unborn generations. The first law proposal was made in October 1910 by the deputy Henri Roulleaux-Dugage, which was seriously discussed by the Assemble Nationale only in 1923. The latter first decided to couple introduction of the proxy vote for children and that of women’s suffrage, and next took them jointly into consideration with a large majority (440 against 135). However, the Poincar government procrastinated. New elections took place in 1924, followed by a financial crisis that wiped both proposals off the agenda until women’s suffrage, on its own, was introduced in 1946.  Since the end of World War, it was for example defended by the socialist political thinker and demographer Alfred Sauvy, sympathetically expounded in Adolphe Landry’s classic treatise of demography, unsuccessfully proposed, in the late 1950s by General de Gaulle’s Prime Minister Michel Debre," and later revived by Jean-Marie Le Pen’s right-wing National Front. 

 

In Germany, the idea seems to have been first aired by a political scientist from the University of Bayreuth. But it only started being seriously discussed in the 1990's, first at the initiative of the Christian-democratic representative Wilfried Bohm (in July 1992), soon supported by the conservative archbishop of Fulda Johannes Dyba and by the youth section of Bavaria’s Christian-Social Union. Support, however, has by no means been confined to the Christian right. Proposals along these lines have also been made, for example by the family affairs spokesperson for Bavaria’s Social Democratic Party, and by the justice minister for the city of Berlin, Lore Maria Peschel-Gutzeit, also a Social-democrat. Furthermore, in July 1993, the all-party Children’s Commission of the National Parliament unanimously asked the government to look into the feasibility of introducing a proxy vote for children. 

Outside France and Germany, nothing resembling a serious discussion has come to my attention. However, a number of scholars seem to have hit upon the idea independently, including the Norwegian sociologist Stein Ringen, the American political scientist Paul Peterson, the economic consultant Alexei Bayer, the Italian economist Luigi Campiglio, and also, years earlier, Harvard University lecturer Manuel Carballo.

Some of the proposals-from Lasserre (1873) and Toulemon (1933) to Carballo (19811, Grozinger (1993) or Low (1997) -go all the way to “genuine universal suffrage,” granting one extra vote for each minor child. One at least, adopted in 1930 by the French Republican Party, goes beyond this, by allowing parents to keep the extra votes even after their children have become voters themselves. Others-such as Ringen (1996) -stop at conferring one extra vote as soon and as long as there is at least one minor child in the household. Others still -such as several of the proposals discussed in France in the 1920's and the one actually implemented in Tunisia and Morocco -reserve the extra vote to large families.

 

Whether one or more proxy votes are awarded to a family, the question arises of which of the parents should receive them. The pioneering proposals by Henri Lasserre in 1873 and by Henri Roulleaux-Dugage in 1910 and 1923 gave them all to the father, as does the Front National’s. Stein Ringen (1996), on the contrary, gives all extra votes to the mother: his empirical research on the allocation of family budgets establishes that mothers, on average, can be trusted to take their children’s interests to heart far more than fathers can. At a time at which the lower age limit for voting was still 21, Alfred Sauvy proposed that mothers would vote for their children up to age 10, and fathers from 11 to 20. Grozinger (“Achtung, Kind wahlt mit!” pp. 1264-65), instead, proposes that fathers should vote for their sons and mothers for their daughters, on the basis of empirical evidence showing gender-specific electoral preferences. Somewhat more complicated to administer is the strictly egalitarian one, which gives half a vote to each parent (Hattenhauer, “Uber das Minderjahrigenwahlrecht,” p. 16). The compromise adopted in 1930 under feminist pressure by the French parents’ vote lobby is close to this, while dispensing with half votes: it gives one vote to the father for each of his children of odd rank, and one vote to the mother for each of her children of fair rank (see Toulemon, Le Sufiage, 132-33, 137, 216, who endorses the proposal himself). More sensible, no doubt, would be the symmetric proposal giving mothers proxy votes for their children of rank 1,3,5, etc., and fathers for the others. The resulting significant pro-mother bias could easily be justified using Ringen’s argument quoted above. 

 

Further details need to be filled in. Most obviously, each of the formulas listed above has to make provisions for cases in which one at least of the two parents has died or disappeared. These provisions may or may not generalize to cases in which at least one of the two parents is not entitled to vote, because of being a foreign national or below 18 or in prison. Most importantly, for the large and growing proportion of children whose parents are alive and entitled to vote but do not live together, how much of a sharing of parental responsibilities should there be for both parents to be able to claim their children’s votes? And if adoptive parents are given proxy votes, why not also stepparents? There is an obvious trade off between on the one hand the scheme’s ability to track each parent’s concern for their children’s welfare and distribute votes accordingly, and on the other its administrative simplicity, uncontentiousness and unintrusiveness. Given that what is at stake here is not the effect of the decision on the welfare of any particular child, but the scheme’s general effect on policy, it is clear that the second set of considerations should prevail and that the scheme should therefore operate on the basis of very rough and simple presumptions.

 

The choice among the many variants of the family vote, or parent’s vote, or children’s proxy vote, obviously depends on the objectives that are being pursued. Four main distinct objectives feature in the justifications given for the proposals. 

 

1. Firstly, from Lasserre (1873) to Peschel- Gutzeit (1997), natalist considerations are conspicuously present: to halt demographic decline, it may help to publicly express in this way the consideration society owes to those who secure its future and even more to give families the political power that will enable them to successfully push for child-friendly and hence birth-promoting policies.

2. Secondly, irrespective of any demographic impact, the proposals are often advocated on the ground that, by correcting the overrepresentation of small households, they would make it possible for policies to be adopted that more closely approximate what inter-household distributive justice requires (see, e.g., Ringen, “In a Democracy, Children Should Get the Vote”).

3. Thirdly, they would have as a consequence -it is sometimes claimed -to optimally locate the peak of the average person’s electoral power at “an age at which he is still young enough to muster enthusiasm, yet already old enough to possess experience.” 

4. Finally, they are justified, particularly today in green circles on the ground that, by increasing the influence of those with “a deeper sense of the community’s permanent interests” (Landry, Truitb de dbmographie, p. 634), they would increase the time horizon of the electorate or, as Grozinger (“Achtung, Kind Walt mit!” p. 1261) puts it, reduce “the dictatorship of the present over the future.”

 

Obviously, this fourth justification is the one most closely related to our present concerns. It crucially relies on the empirical conjecture that on average adults with minor children in their households care about a more remote future than other adults".

 

(1) Demeny, P. 1986 "Pronatalist Policies in Low-Fertility Countries: Patterns, Performance and Prospects," Population and Development Review, vol. 12 (supplement): 335-358: https://www.jstor.org/stable/2807916?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

 

(2) Parijs, Philippe van, 1999 ,"The Disenfranchisement of the Elderly, and Other Attempts to Secure Intergenerational Justice", Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 27,: 292-333: 

http://ot-ds.sipr.ucl.ac.be/cps/ucl/doc/etes/documents/1998.Disfranchisement__4_.pdf

(3) Aoki, Reiko & Vaithianathan, Rhema, 2009, "Is Demeny Voting the Answer to Low Fertility in Japan?":  http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/hitpiecis/435.htm

(4) Aoki, R., "Demographic Perspective on Japan’s “Lost Decades”, Population & Development Review 38 (Supplement): 103–112 (2012).

(5) Acemoglu, D., and Robinson, J.A., "Why did the West Extend the Franchise? Democracy, Inequality & Growth in Historical Perspective", The Quarterly Journal of Economics, November 2000.

 

Please see more suggested literature in the section "Suggested Reading" under our "Knowledge center".

CHILDREN'S SUFFRAGE HISTORY

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