National | Education

'Empower youth, lower voting age to 16', youth leader says

In her newly appointed role as a UNESCO youth leader in New Zealand, Blair Kapa-Peters is urging government to empower youth by lowering the eligible voting age to 16.

Giving youth a voice is an issue Blair Kapa-Peters has a strong passion for.

"When I decided to vote when I was 18 I didn't know anything about politics. I just went off what I saw on social media, what I knew from my friends and family and I wished that I was able to have more of an informed vote," she says.

"It'd be cool if schools even did a crash course on 101 this is why it's important to vote.  We see that so many times people aren't voting and I guess if they knew how to vote or why it's important they'd vote."

Kapa-Peters says a move to a lower voting age would go hand-in-hand with education around why the voice of youth is important.

"You have a voice, even if it's different to everyone else's voice, you have a voice and you're allowed your opinion.  Don't hide because it might be different to anyone else's. Be vocal about it because there might be people who are exactly like you but might not be as confident," she says.

"A lot of times I see programmes created for youth voice, people want to hear the youth voice.  Well, are you going to give us the opportunity to vote with our voice or is it just tokenism?"

Currently working as a youth navigator for Building Safer Communities in Kaitaia, Kapa-Peters says that crime, violence and living in poverty are key issues of concern for youth in the Far North.

"A lot of times there's not heaps of opportunities up here in Te Hiku. Even so, as a youth navigator I've got to go and find them for our rangatahi so that they can see that there is more than just Kaitaia and more than just New Zealand even.  There's a big whole world out there for them to explore," she says.

"A lot of older people don't believe in the power that young people have. I think it underestimates the power and the creativity our young people have, and I don't think age is a reason to belittle anyone for wanting to create positive change."

In time the benefits of the voice of youth will come to fruition.

"Politics is pretty boring, I get it. It's not like wakeboarding, it's a whole lot of talking."

Report by Dean Nathan for Te Ao.