Voting age 18 years

Flights Of Fantasy

[ M Panging Pao ]

Simultaneous polls were recently held for both the Lok Sabha and the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly, and new governments have been elected. Thousands of 18-year-old first-time voters exercised their adult franchise during the elections.

Many youths participated in the election process by being part of political parties and contesting candidates. Thereby many youths took part in election mobilisation and campaigning. Youth volunteers, including school/college students, were paid daily fees of 700-1,000 rupees for election campaigning and provided free food, liquor, etc. In addition, youths were exposed to smoking, drinking and aggressive campaigning up to late night. Many 18-25-year-old youths still in colleges and higher secondary levels earned easy election money and were exposed to bad vices of society. Post elections, there were sudden increase in rave parties and many youths got induced to easily available drugs, smoking, liquor etc, all funded by easy election money.

This brings forth the question of minimum voting age in India. The minimum voting age in India was brought down from 21 years to 18 years in 1989.

There are ongoing discussions among intellectuals on whether the voting age of 18 is justifiable. Most countries of the world have minimum voting age as 18 years. There are some countries with minimum voting age as 21 years, and a few with minimum voting age as 16 years.

Generally, the age bracket of ‘teenagers’ is between 16 and 19 years. At 18 years, most students would be in Class 12 or just passed Class 12 and yet to attend college. Many feel that most students at this age are unsure about further education, career prospects, etc,and are not yet capable of taking mature and fair decisions. But at 18 years, these students are eligible for voting.

In India, the marriageable age is 21 years for men and 18 years for women. The minimum age for smoking, sale of cigarettes/tobacco products is 18 years. The minimum age for drinking liquor varies from 18 to 25 years (18 years in Goa, 25 years in Delhi, and 21 years in Arunachal).

At 18 years of age, persons are declared as ‘adults’ and are eligible for driving licenses, independent bank accounts, etc. Juveniles are persons below 18 years of age and are governed by the Juvenile Act.

Therefore, it appears that at 18 years age (still a teenager), just passed higher secondary and still undergraduate, our children can smoke, consume tobacco products, drive vehicles, drink liquor in certain states and legally marry (females), and can vote.

Around 18 years of age, most parents and children are planning for competitive exams like NEET, JEE,etc, and busy taking tuitions at various institutions. At this age, parents and children are selecting suitable career options for their children. At this vulnerable age, is it right to expose our children to the vagaries and bad effects of politics, elections and electioneering? Should the minimum voting age be reviewed and increased to 21 years as earlier? Do you agree?  (The contributor is retired Group Captain, Indian Air Force)