THIS week, the Welsh Conservatives called on the Welsh Assembly to establish a Youth Parliament for Wales.
In a Senedd debate, Conservatives argued that such a move is critical to increasing youth participation in devolved politics and encouraging a higher voter turnout.
A Hansard Society report published in 2014 revealed that just 16% of 18 to 24-year-olds said they would vote in an election, compared to the 58% who said they would be prepared to vote if they felt strongly about an issue.
Two years ago, the Labour-led Welsh Government cut funding to support the National Children and Young People’s Parliament – an initiative designed to engage young people in devolved politics.
The decision to end this initiative was questioned by the then Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Keith Towler, who asked the Welsh Government whether it was meeting its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – and its own legislation on children’s rights.
A recent ‘Assemble for Wales’ survey held by the Campaign for a Children and Young People’s Assembly for Wales showed that 92% of respondents wished to see the establishment of a youth parliament, and 85% wished that this should be permanent and protected in law.
The UN has noted that Wales is among six devolved nations without a Youth Parliament, and recommended that one should be established as a priority, so that children can effectively engage with the legislative process on issues that affect them.
In the 2015 General Election, voter turnout in Wales was 65%, compared to 45% in the Assembly elections.
However, it is worth noting that this was the highest turnout recorded for an Assembly election since 1999.
Leading the debate, Shadow Secretary for Education, Darren Millar AM, said: “Today’s debate is about ensuring that Wales’ children and young people are given the opportunity to have their say on issues that matter to them, and to ensure that politicians and other decision makers in Wales listen to their voices.
“Early engagement is critical to embedding the importance of the democratic process to tomorrow’s electorate.
“Establishing a well-resourced youth assembly is a crucial step in ensuring future youth participation in Welsh politics.