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In Brazil, people can vote in elections at the age of 16. It's one of a handful of places in the world with such a young voting age. Just two decades ago, Brazilian teenagers lobbied hard for the right to vote, but as Annie Murphy reports, increased economic and political stability has since driven many teens away from the ballot box.
ANNIE MURPHY: It's Saturday afternoon in the Lapa neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. This area is popular with young artists and musicians. Many buildings are peeling paint, and eclectic bars lined its main street. Right now, it's drizzling, and most people are having lunch with friends.
But Renato Cinco has a busy day of meetings. He's running for Brazil's Congress. His progressive platform includes the legalization of marijuana to combat crime.
(Soundbite of music)
MURPHY: A local reggae bar has donated space for him to hold meetings.
Cinco has been politically active since he was 12. He grew up during a dictatorship, and student movements were key to bringing in democracy in 1985. And when the constitution was rewritten in 1988, it became legal to vote at 16. Cinco, a sociologist, remembers how important the student movement used to be.
Mr. RENATO CINCO: (Through Translator) The student movement might have been Brazil's first organized social movement. It was even around centuries ago. And up until recently, the student movement was one of the main breeding grounds for politicians.
MURPHY: But today, that enthusiasm and participation seem to be waning. Some teenagers are still active, like 19-year-old Thiago Tomazine, who's working on Cinco's campaign, but he says he's an exception.
Mr. THIAGO TOMAZINE: (Foreign language spoken)
MURPHY: Thiago says activism is great, but most of my friends say you're going to vote? Stop joking, go to the beach, why would you vote? I believe very few people my age vote. They're disillusioned.
According to analyst and constitutional law professor Alvaro Palma da Jorge less than half of these 16- and 17-year-olds use their vote. That surprises him. Palma de Jorge remembers the first time he voted.
Mr. ALVARO PALMA DA JORGE (Professor of Constitutional Law): I was 16 in 1989, and when I was going to vote for president for the first time, my mother came with me, and she was voting for the first time for the president as well. It was a great moment of national life, like everybody was so excited that democracy was coming back.
MURPHY: Palma de Jorge says, now, the apathy of many young people is due largely to Brazil's political and economic stability, which means youth aren't forced to consider their rights or how they got them.
Mr. PALMA DA JORGE: I always give the example of cassette tapes. My students, they have never seen a cassette tape. When I talk about a cassette tape, they say, what? And I have to explain what this is all about. Part of the idea of liberty is like that. You take it for granted, like you are born, you can vote, and you can do this and you can do that.
MURPHY: The issues that are important to young people are changing, too. In this presidential race, many of the young voters who are participating are rallying around Marina da Silva, a woman from Brazil's Amazon, who's running on an environmental platform.
(Soundbite of campaign video)
Unidentified Group: (Singing in Foreign Language)
MURPHY: This campaign video shows young people dressed in earthy colors, dancing to a song by a well-known Brazilian pop singer.
Today, 16-year-old Vanessa Rodrigues is skipping class with her best friend. She says the environment is the main issue people her age think about, but she's not interested in elections.
Ms. VANESSA RODRIGUES: (Foreign language spoken)
MURPHY: Vanessa says I think it's really cool that we can vote at 16. In other countries, you can't, like the United States. It's a nice difference, but she adds, I don't really see any good politicians, and I don't really see why I should vote.
And on Election Day, Vanessa, like many Brazilian teenagers, won't be at the polls.
For NPR News, this is Annie Murphy in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
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