Last week, it was time again for this year’s favorite political event: the Children’s Question Time. I like the children’s question time because the children know how to prioritize and the adult politicians show that they can conduct politics in a different way.
The questions were touching again this year. It started with a proposal to give children a structural influence on Dutch politics. Prime Minister Rutte pointed out that there are already opportunities for children to talk to, such as children’s councils and child mayors. But he wanted to discuss it. One class from Urk also asked what measures were taken against sea level rise, another class wanted to know how Minister Staghouwer envisioned the future of agriculture, and there was a question of poverty and education.
The animal ambulance was also discussed. Iwan Krans from Wagenborg said that pets are very important for the children in his class. They also once called the animal ambulance for an injured bird. He wanted to know why the animal ambulance is not a priority vehicle and must not drive with flashing lights. Secretary of State Van der Burg replied that there is a need for trained drivers for this and it is too demanding for volunteers. The children did not find it convincing and asked why they are not being paid.
This question indicated a worldview where other animals are co-creatures. In the Wagenborg class, there are pictures of pets on the wall, so they are also a bit with. It is no exception that children see animals in this way. Recent research from the UK shows that the hierarchy that adults experience between humans and other animals has been learned. This hierarchy leads to a conflicting moral attitude: we see some animals as food and others as friends, while these animals may have the same interests. Smaller children look at it differently and think, for example, that domestic animals should be treated as well as humans. They learn this in adolescence and learn to distinguish on the basis of species. Leading researcher Luke McGuire says this is not only scientifically interesting: Adults can learn from the child’s attitude to better interact with animals and the planet.
Which brings us back to the issue of child participation. A recurring theme, already at the first child’s question time, the children wanted to know if the voting age could not be lowered. Adults believe that children’s participation is not necessary or possible, or that children do not care. But children have their own perspective on life and moreover, the interests of adults and children do not always coincide. During the corona crisis, for example, children had to give up relatively much in school, sports and social contact to protect the elderly. The consequences of this have not yet been clarified.
The interests of children and adults will only diverge further in the near future. Statistics Holland wrote that “the sustainability of our prosperity” is under pressure because nature is disappearing. The UN wrote in a report that seawater temperatures, greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rise and sea acidification all reached new record highs last year. The consequences will affect children differently than adults.
Ignoring children’s ideas is a form of discrimination, philosophers like John Wall argue. They must be able to have real political influence. It requires creativity: ‘children’ are a diverse group in terms of age, background and interests. Sometimes their position is clear, as when children make themselves heard in climate protests, sometimes not. Taking their perspective seriously starts with listening anyway. Nor is it a bad idea in adult politics.
Eva Meijer is a writer and philosopher. She writes a column every other week.
A version of this article was also published in the newspaper on May 24, 2022