NYRA: Promoting Youth Rights in the US

From the Supreme Court to cities across the USA, this organisation is making sure young voices are heard. Meet the NYRA

We at Youth Time cover topics concerning youth issues and serve as a platform for young people.

Aware that youth around the world face various challenges, we create space for youth activists and NGOs working in youth sectors in different communities.

We dedicate this piece to the National Youth Rights Association (NYRA) – the United States (US) largest organisation fighting for the rights of all young people. 

The organisation was found in 1998 by a group of young people who wanted to challenge the age discrimination and prejudice they were experiencing.

Realising that ageism is like other forms of oppression, they started NYRA as a youth-led civil rights organisation hoping to emulate other successful rights organisations that have pushed us to a more just world. 

They devoted NYRA to defending the freedom, equality, and rights of all young people by challenging age discrimination and prejudice.

Today, the leadership that continues this vision includes Board Members Neil Bhateja and Brian Conner. I got the chance to ask Bhateja some questions.

He shares the inspiration behind this idea, and what are some of the key challenges and progresses they have witnessed since the beginning of the work to this day.

In this piece, we focus on one of the most important NYRA initiatives, Vote16, a campaign lobbying for young people to gain political power.


NYRA’s Early Days

At the beginning of the interview, Bhateja explains that the organisation was formed after some members of a mailing list called: Americans for a Society Free from Age Restrictions, formed a non-profit to fight against ageism laws, restrictions, and biases and promote youth rights.

“We all have our own experiences growing up without the full rights of adults, which inspire us to join for different reasons. 

“For some people it is about compulsory school or corporal punishment, for others the right to vote or another issue.”

One of their biggest successes was in 2010, when they joined the American Civil Liberties Union and National Coalition Against Censorship in filing an amicus brief supporting the right of youth to buy video games, regardless of violent content, without restriction.

“The US Supreme Court ruled that the California law banning violent video game sales to young people was an unconstitutional violation of their rights.”


Lowering the Voting Age to 16

NYRA’s work challenges ageism hoping they will grant all young people the rights that everyone deserves.

In coalitions with multiple advocacy groups, some of their members have had success in getting cities: “in the US, Takoma Park, Maryland, and Hyattsville, Maryland, to lower their city voting ages to 16.

“Of course, we still have a lot of challenges! A similar campaign which we helped with in San Francisco failed, the drinking age in most of the US is still 21, and young people are denied the right to be independent people who make their own life choices.”

What are your key initiatives or activities towards supporting and advancing youth’s rights?

“There are so many youth rights issues to work on, and what we choose to focus on depends on what opportunities are available. 

“Recently, the idea of lowering the voting age to 16 has become popular, so we have been able to collaborate with other organisations to work towards this in the US.”

“We are also sponsoring Breaking Code Silence, a project which exposes and seeks to end residential treatment programs in which youth are imprisoned without their consent and mistreated. 

“The Troubled Teen Industry is one of our biggest focuses right now.”


Hearing the Voices that Matter

Whereas, in this part of the article, Bhateja elaborates how their work has been impacted by COVID-19 pandemic and how NYRA adjusted to that.

“The pandemic has made it more difficult to work on political campaigns, which often rely on in person conversations and rallies as part of the strategy to convince people to vote a certain way. 

Neil Bhateja NYRA
Being Heard: NYRA’s Neil Bhateja

“It has also exposed how young people do not have enough of a voice in their own education.”

About schooling, Bhateja goes on. You hear the opinions of politicians, parents, and teachers’ unions loud and clear.

“But what about children? We do not use their first-hand knowledge to decide the best way to learn during a pandemic, or when and how they want schools to safely reopen.”

Both Bhateja and Conner believe that there will come a day when people can be free, regardless of age.

NYRA encourages you to get involved and work on whichever issue you are most passionate about!

Is there a restrictive dress code at your school, a store that does not allow minors, or an abuse of parental power you are experiencing?

Visit https://www.youthrights.org/ to form a NYRA Node, volunteer to help them with social media or research, or donate to the organisation!

Please click here for NYRA’s Merch.

Photos: NYRA

From the US to Lisbon with this next article

Spin Association: Giving Young People a Remarkable Lisbon Experience

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