The age of majority is the age at which adulthood is reached as recognised by the law. In Britain that age is officially 18 years but it is not quite as straightforward as that. The age of sexual consent is 16 and one can join the army at 16 and marry at 16. A 17 year old can drive a car but to ride certain types of motorbike you must be 24. It is so random as to be completely confusing. The age of majority in England and Wales changed on 1st January 1970 from 21 to 18 (in Scotland it is 16). A hangover from this is that both 21st and 18th birthdays are still seen as milestones though now it is only the 18th which has significance.
Whilst most agree that children these days grow up quickly, legislation seems to want to keep them as school pupils for a growing number of years.The school leaving age was raised to 15 in 1944 and to 16 in 1972. The government has this year raised the school leaving age to 17 and intends to raise it to 18 in 2015. I think this is more to do with keeping down the unemployment figures than any child protection issue as it is pretty ludicrous that one can marry at 16 but not leave school, unless it is to sign up to a designated employer (such as the army). Once you could buy cigarettes at 16 but now it is 18. Is there any wonder we are all bewildered?
Although under our existing laws anyone under the age of 18 is considered a child, a legal anomaly in the Police and Criminal Evidence (PACE) Act was highlighted today; arrested 17 year olds were routinely denied access to an independent adult or their parents to help guide them through the legal process. An estimated 75,000 seventeen year olds are arrested each year. After the suicide of two of these teenagers, the High Court ruled today that 17 year olds must be treated as children when held in police custody. This seems a ruling based on common sense until one realises that the same 17 year old could marry,have a family, join the army and, if some have their way, soon be able to cast a vote. The circumstances decide whether he is a child or an adult.
It is also interesting to note that, though one is classed as an adult at aged 18, an employee has to be aged 20 to receive the maximum national minimum wage. Similarly, there are two rates of Jobseeker’s Allowance; those looking for work aged 16-24 receive £56.80 each week whilst those of 25 or over enjoy the princely sum of £71.70. Why you should have lower living costs when younger, though still adult, is beyond any explanation.
The age of majority is always going to be contentious; children don’t suddenly become adults and there are many stages of maturity and there is large variance in when these changes occur-some seem adult at 12, others are child-like at 21, but there has to be some clear definition of when adulthood begins, unless we start using a common sense test which if you pass allows you the privilege of adulthood. But then for some childhood may last a very long time.