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Taking kids to protests - is it irresponsible?

Environmental Defence's Copenhagen conference advertisement depicts kids protesting climate change.

Forget grey power. At a protest in Toronto Thursday, it was all about the power of the soother set.

City Hall was swarmed with a mini-army of babies, toddlers and children whose parents had brought them to protest potential cuts to city-run daycare programs.

They came armed with daycare-style snacks and a heavy dose of chutzpah.

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Their rhetorical style: "Red rover, red rover, we call Doug Ford over," according to a piece by David Rider of the Toronto Star.

"Ford got a big cheer by letting himself be coaxed over from his council chamber chair Thursday morning, but he refused juice and a cracker, or to 'pinky swear' that he won't cut subsidized child care spaces," writes Mr. Rider.

Pinky swear? Really? While it's only fair to confront politicians - who are only too glad to kiss babies on the campaign trail and talk about family values - with issues that affect many children, the protest raises questions about the role of kids in political protests. At what age do they really have their own opinions about issues? To what extent are they simply doing what their parents ask, trying to please them?

In a vote about whether the protest should be allowed to proceed, some councillors argued that it was "wrong to use children as 'political pawns,' according to the piece.

Still, some of them were clearly confident in the role of mini-activist.

"Are you swearing allegiance to child care?" Amina Vance, 10, asked one councillor, according to the Star.

"It's important," the Grade 5 student told reporters when asked why she took a day away from studies to protest. "It's more important than school."

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Of course in many parts of the world, it's not uncommon for children to be initiated into even dangerous protests or uprisings. In Syria, children as young as 10 have been taking to the streets to join that country's uprising, according to the BBC.

And this week, Al Jazeera reported that some Israeli settler groups have been distributing pamphlets urging women and children to "meet Palestinian protesters in the West Bank."

Offering cookies and juice to a group of city councillors seems tame by comparison, of course.

Do children have a role to play in political protest? How early do kids become engaged as citizens, anyway?

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