Feature

United Kingdom: No consensus on the age of majority

It&rsquo;s time for Britain to hash out, once and for all, just when childhood ends and when adulthood begins, said Libby Brooks in <em>The Guardian.</em>

Libby BrooksThe Guardian

Does adulthood begin at 16, or 18, or 21? asked Libby Brooks. You’d think society would just pick one age of maturity and be done with it. But in Britain, at least, “the legal definition of when a child is deemed an allegedly responsible adult remains bafflingly incoherent.” There is a mess of conflicting laws on how old you must be to participate in various adult activities.

Here, once you reach 16, you can have sex, but you can’t look at porn. You can leave home, “but you have to wait another two years for that tattoo,” or to buy a pet. You can gamble, but you can’t buy fireworks. And even though a 16-year-old can hold a job, pay taxes, and find day care for her child, she still can’t vote.

In other countries, children are treated as competent much earlier. “Ten-year-olds head households in war-torn African states; child laborers unionize in India.” It’s time for Britain to hash out, once and for all, just when childhood ends and when adulthood begins. After all, surely you needn’t wait until age 18 to buy a hamster.

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