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By Bishop of Leeds
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We must empower more young people to enter politics


3 min read

This generation of young people will inherit the greatest challenges facing our common humanity – poverty, inequality, conflict, climate and ecological breakdown.

These interlinked crises were not created by young people, but young people will, necessarily, be at the vanguard of the fight to address them.

But there is no reason why they should wait to confront these challenges. Instead, they should be empowered to play a leading role now. They are the ones who will be most impacted by the decisions made today. Yet too often, they are excluded from the decision-making processes that shape their lives. 

The world has more young people today than ever before – over half of the world’s population is now under 30. Despite this, only 2.6 per cent of legislators are under 30 and nearly a third of parliaments do not have a single MP aged under 30.

If young people continue to be marginalised and excluded, it can only lead to the erosion of democratic legitimacy

It is not that young people do not have what it takes to succeed in prominent roles – far from it. From Greta Thunberg to Malala Yousafzai, young people are showing extraordinary leadership qualities and building powerful movements for change. Grassroots, youth-led movements from Chile to Lebanon, Hong Kong to Sudan, are reshaping the political landscape. Yet young people remain, at best, widely overlooked, undervalued and underrepresented in the political arena; at worst, they face violent repression from authoritarian regimes.

Meaningful democracy requires the full, active and continuing participation of young people and youth organisations in democratic processes at local, national and international levels. Harnessing the ideas, perspectives and energy of young people is imperative for the health of any democracy. From the climate emergency to the challenge of mass displacement, the importance of their inclusion and participation in decision-making is clear. 

Put simply, a fundamental principle of democracy is that political systems should reflect society as a whole and represent the interests and desires of all citizens. If young people continue to be marginalised and excluded from our democracies, it can only lead to the erosion of democratic legitimacy. Now that people under 30 years of age are the majority, the status quo is indefensible.

The value of youth participation in legislatures has been championed by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) – the global organisation of 179 national parliaments from around the world.

In 2010, the IPU passed a resolution that led to the establishment of the Forum of Young Parliamentarians in 2013 – a permanent IPU body that represents the world’s youngest MPs.

Over the last decade, the Forum has worked to increase the number of young people in parliaments across the world and empower them through exchanging ideas and ensuring that parliaments provide time to debate the issues that are important to young people.

It is an honour and a privilege to have been elected, by my peers, as president of the Forum of Young Parliamentarians at the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

The role presents an important opportunity. I am determined to see young people at the heart of global decision-making. That means working with national parliamentarians around the world to ensure any barriers to young people standing for election are removed. In 69 per cent of countries, the voting age is younger than the minimum legal age to hold parliamentary office.

It is also vital to remove the social barriers preventing young people from fully participating in their democratic institutions, whether it is poverty, racial discrimination, access to education and healthcare. 

We must ensure that young people have a seat at every table where decisions are made, guided by the principle: "nothing about us without us".


Dan Carden, Labour MP for Liverpool Walton

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