[WATCH] Studying, partying and voting at 16

When Malta chooses its MEPs next Saturday, Laura Marie Mercieca will be there to vote like other 16 and 17-year-olds. She tells MaltaToday young voters may talk about different things but their voice is equally important

Laura Mercieca: “We need to teach children from a young age about respecting women”
Laura Mercieca: “We need to teach children from a young age about respecting women”
Voting for the first time: Studying, partying and voting at 16

Sleeping in on a Saturday morning may be a typical characterisation of a 16-year-old who would have spent the previous night out with friends.

But on Saturday that routine may change for many young people, who will head out to vote for the first time in a European Parliament election.

Laura Marie Mercieca is one of these young people. A Junior College maths and physics student, Laura speaks enthusiastically about the need to have the voice of young people heard.

“It is a duty to vote and I will not waste this opportunity that I have been given,” she tells me enthusiastically.

We meet at the Floriana offices of the Malta Foundation for Wellbeing of Society. Laura is a member of the Children’s Council within the foundation.

I had met her a couple of months ago during a roundtable discussion between MEP candidates and the young members of the council.

Laura’s strong appeal for equality had resonated back then as it does now. Equality between men and women is one of her pet subjects and something she looks for in the policies of prospective MEPs.

“We need to teach children from a young age about respecting women… even in politics. It should make no difference to us whether a person is a woman or a man,” she says.

Laura agrees with the quota mechanism to increase the number of women in parliament, insisting it is important to have equal representation in the House.  

Equality is one issue that makes this 17-year-old teen tick. After all, she tells me, being young is not just about parties and going out.
Malta lowered the voting age for all elections to 16 last year, making it one of only two EU countries that allows children of that age to vote in national and European elections.

Many were sceptical then and most still are now. Can a 16-year-old be trusted to vote wisely?

Laura smiles. She says young people need the opportunity to express their voice.

“We can be trusted. At 16 we are going to school, studying alone, entering the job market, experiencing life in public on our own… our interests and emphasis may lie elsewhere but although our voice is different, it is equally important,” she says.

But are 16-year-olds interested in politics?

According to the local council election data from 2015 when 16-year-olds were allowed to vote in local elections only, it appears that the level of interest is quite high. From the 4,485 youngsters, eligible to vote in those elections four years ago, 62.3% had cast their ballot. “You will find young people uninterested in politics, just like adults but there are young people who are interested,” Laura answers matter-of-factly.

She says parents will have an impact on their children’s choices but believes 16-year-olds can be trusted to choose, just as they are trusted to study alone. “At the end of the day we have our own head to think.”

An important issue for Laura is the environment, something she says is close to the heart of many young people her age.

“Malta has the highest level of CO2 emissions. This is not just about air quality and its impact on trees but on human health. Asthma sufferers have to deal with bad air every day,” she says.

Malta can do more to safeguard the environment, she adds. “I want MEPs to give the environment utmost priority and use their platform to improve things in Malta.”

The environment has featured as one of the campaign themes over the past four weeks but the more cynical voices will say this will only last until the election. Laura is more positive.

“I trust that elected MEPs will not forget what they are saying on the environment,” she says.

Another issue brought up in the election campaign was abortion. Laura believes in the need to have a wider debate on the subject.

“It is often not discussed with facts in hand. Society needs to be better informed. I always give importance to the woman but I know there is also the life a young baby at stake. I do not think there should be a distinction between the mother’s and the baby’s life. Life starts at conception and we should offer protection from the start and not just when children are born,” she says.

Laura constantly talks about the need for more education in schools to foster greater civic sense.

“We are being taught what is needed to be able to work but we are not being taught about society, how to live and respect others, democracy, how to vote... we give importance to numbers but not human emotions. There is much more we can be teaching children,” she tells me.

In between studying for her exams and leafing through the notes, Laura will be queueing to vote on Saturday. It is an opportunity this outspoken sixth-former will definitely not miss.

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