Should 16-year-olds be allowed to vote? Adam Aspinall looks at the issue and the 18 to 25-year-old group are the least likely to vote in UK elections.

The usual line of argument when people talk about the voting age is that 16-year-olds have all the responsibilities but none of the rights.

Of course, the situation seems unfair as 16-year-olds can kill enemy soldiers on our behalf, and get married and begin to raise children, but cannot choose their political masters. But perhaps the problem with this point is that it overlooks the haphazard and organic nature of British voting legislation.

We did not gain anything like universal suffrage in Britain until 1918 when women aged 30 and over gained the right to vote.

That year was also the first time women were able to become MPs. The voting age for women was lowered to 21 (the same as men at that time) in 1928.

The age a person could vote was lowered to 18 in 1969 at the same as it was in all countries in the EU and most other countries in the world.

The lesson from this is that progress on voting legislation is a slow, anachronistic and painful process that does not change readily and is not often in line with logical argument.

There are approximately eight countries that have a voting age of less than 18 ? these include Cuba, Brazil and Croatia, with Iran having the lowest voting age at 15. Around 12 countries have a higher voting age of 20 or 21.

One of the main problems people have with the campaign to lower the voting age to 16 is the apathy most young people already show to politics.

A Government report on the problem in 2002 showed that many 14 to 20-year-olds believe MPs to be out-of-touch

The report also found that 59 per cent of young people have little interest in politics and that only 31 per cent felt there was a duty to vote in the first place.

There have been calls before to lower the voting age in the UK to 16 but as yet the Government appears to be opposed to such a change.

Citizenship education is being phased into schools across Britain but will not be fully implemented until 2006 so maybe it is too early to know how it will affect the interest in elections and democracy among young people.

In spite of their supposed apathy it is true that the legal status of 16-year-olds on voting has not caught up with with their adult status in terms of the right to work, pay tax, drive, marry, or join the armed forces with parental consent.

Young people are often passionate about political issues and investigations into the issue, such as the Youth Voting Network?s report A Young Person?s Agenda for Democracy, show that young people are interested in politics, but feel isolated from political parties and the political process, which is perceived as not listening to, or reflecting, their concerns.

Participation in elections by all age groups has been declining and clearly more needs to be done to encourage all potential voters to use their vote and encourage politicians to be more accessible and in touch with the voters they represent.

Should the voting age be lowered to 16?

Read the arguments for:

and against: