THE BLOG
15/02/2015 18:13 GMT | Updated 17/04/2015 06:59 BST

With or Without a Vote, Today's Young People Are Making Change

From homelessness and knife crime, to unemployment and climate change, today's young people are affected by the social challenges they see around them. These issues are impacted in turn by political decisions made in Westminster - so it is important to discuss whether young people under 18 should have democratic input into the political future of their country.

While politicians debate whether to lower the voting age to 16, young people across the UK are not waiting to influence change in their communities.

In Bognor Regis they shattered a UK record last year - not for the deepest suntans or farthest birdman leap off the pier, but for fighting food poverty. Last autumn, students at The Regis School collected an astonishing 2,423 kilos of tinned food through the global We Scare Hunger campaign, which amounts to over 5,700 meals for their neighbours in need.

Meanwhile, young people from Carlton Bolling College in Bradford, cook hot meals for homeless people, dedicate their Saturdays to helping children with dyslexia read, and teach English to newly arrived Syrian refugees. At Whitley Academy in Coventry, they've set up a mental health awareness number for any student needing to speak with someone about their problems.

From homelessness and knife crime, to unemployment and climate change, today's young people are affected by the social challenges they see around them. These issues are impacted in turn by political decisions made in Westminster - so it is important to discuss whether young people under 18 should have democratic input into the political future of their country.

While young people aren't currently allowed to express themselves on Election Day by casting a vote, they're speaking, instead, with their actions. And they are speaking loudly.

When we started Free The Children in 1995, Craig and his friends were 12 years old and wanted to end child labour in South Asia. The adults we met were surprised that any young members of Generation X or Y would know, or care, about global issues. When we asked established adult-run charities what we could do to help, we were told to go get our parents' credit card.

We may have been an anomaly among our generation twenty years ago - but among today's children and teenagers is a growing movement of informed and compassionate global citizens. They have been labeled "Generation Z", but we prefer to call them the "Me to We Generation".

According to studies in Australia and the United States, today's young people are more likely to make ethical consumer choices, volunteer in their communities and choose careers with positive social impacts. They are standing up to bullying, sexism and poverty; and using technology and their boundless ingenuity to create solutions like revolutionary cancer strategies, flashlights powered by the warmth of a human hand, and bike-powered water filtration systems.

Think of Eliza Rebeiro from Croydon who, at age 14, rallied her peers to tackle the plague of knife crime on their streets and fearlessly declare "Lives Not Knives" on their t-shirts. Now the group sends young volunteers into schools to share their experience with knife crime and engage students in a conversation about alternatives to gangs.

Think of Zea Tongeman from London who, at age-14, created the "Jazzy Recycling" mobile app to encourage young people to recycle, or the Irish teenagers from Cork County who won last year's Google Science Fair for their experiments with pea bacteria that could solve global hunger by drastically increasing crop yields.

Thanks to events like We Day and Step Up to Serve's #iWill campaign, the ethic of social action is spreading like wildfire across the UK. The proportion of young people who consider helping others as part of their everyday lives is expected to rise from 29 per cent to 50 per cent by 2020.

Imagine an entire generation of young people taking on the challenges they see and building a better future. They are aware, connected, creative and committed. Perhaps it's time to give them votes at 16. Perhaps with that added power they will transform the world at an even greater scale.

In the meantime, they will continue making an impact, however they can.

Brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger founded a platform for social change that includes the international charity, Free The Children, the social enterprise, Me to We, and the youth empowerment movement, We Day