Some Germans are taking the idea of universal suffrage to its logical conclusion. They want children to win the vote to counter-balance a fast-aging electorate that is resisting cuts to generous benefits.
Concerned that politicians, increasingly beholden to the demands of the swelling ranks of retired voters, are neglecting children's interests, 47 members of parliament are supporting a cross-party motion that calls for the right to vote from birth.
The motion asks the government to amend the Constitution so parents get a proxy vote for each child under 18.
"A fifth of the population is excluded from elections," said Klaus Haupt, a 60-year-old grandfather of two from the opposition Free Democrats who is driving the initiative.
"Two hundred years ago, nobody could imagine that every male citizen would be able to vote and 100 years ago people couldn't imagine that every woman should vote. Now they can't imagine that everybody should vote from birth," he said.
The initiative has won influential supporters, including Social Democrat parliamentary speaker Wolfgang Thierse, his Greens deputy Antje Vollmer, former Christian Democrat president Roman Herzog and Family Minister Renate Schmidt.
The German Family Association has made votes-for-kids its theme for the year and wants pilot schemes in local elections.
Michael Kruse, deputy head of the German Children's Charity, supports the initiative but wants youngsters to vote themselves, saying a proxy vote is likely to provoke conflict in families.
"Politicians will only take children seriously if they know they could be voted out by them," he said.
The Federal Statistics Office estimates that by 2030 more than a third of the German population will be over 60, up from about a quarter now. By the next general election in 2006, political analysts predict 60 percent of voters will be over 50.
As post-war baby boomers retire en masse in the coming decade, pension, health and other welfare costs are set to spiral further out of control, increasing state debt and putting a mounting burden on a shrinking work force and their offspring.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has staked his political future on reforming the munificent German welfare state, proposing cuts to health and unemployment benefits.
But the measures face tough resistance and his Social Democrats have slumped in polls.
Although he moved away from proposals to raise the pension age to 67 from 65, Schroeder announced a pensions freeze for next year, prompting organizations representing the retired to threaten to punish his centre-left government in 2006.
A poll for Der Spiegel magazine showed 79 percent thought the decision would have a great or very great influence on the voting preferences of the 20 million retired.
"How can any reforms be pushed through against pensioners? Children are second-class citizens," said Kurt-Peter Merk, a lawyer who is representing eight minors in a constitutional challenge to the exclusion of children from the vote.
"We only worry about preserving the high quality of life of our pensioners while many children suffer poverty," he said.
A study by Deutsche Bank shows that voter turnout at German elections is already highest among people over 45.
Unless more notice is taken of the concerns of Germany's young people, some politicians believe that the country could face an increasingly heated fight between the generations.