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Day: October 10, 2012

Votes at 16 sounds good but are 16 year-olds really adults?

On the face of it 16 year-olds should have a vote. They pay income tax and National Insurance, can claim welfare benefits and tax credits, enter marriage or civil partnership, become a company director or even choose a career in the armed forces. So many things they can do. They can have sex without the fear of prosecution for having under-age sex. They can start a family with no stigma or legal issues attached. However does all this make them an adult that deserves the right to have a vote?

These people can’t buy alcohol or tobacco. So we deem 16 and 17 year-olds as old enough to get married and pay direct taxes but not old enough to police their own bodies? This doesn’t add up to me and it is why I often have real issues with topics such as these. When I was 16-17 I was old enough mentally to vote and I was certainly old enough to police my own body but I don’t think I was mentally capable about making decisions regarding sex. Heck I’m 29 now and still find it a huge issue (whether that is due to chronic lack of sexual education at my school is in part a reason for this I don’t know) but what defines you as an adult? It certainly shouldn’t be your age.

Of course we have to have a legally defined age for these things because otherwise it would be a free for all. However not all 16 year-olds are the same mentally and they certainly are not informed the same. Same with 17 year-olds. Heck the same with 29 year-olds. Pick any age you want and you’ll find people of different maturity levels.

When the tobacco law got changed from 16 to 18 it meant that a group of people who were deemed old enough and responsible enough to decide how to police their own bodies with regards to tobacco were suddenly not any more. Had these people changed overnight? No they hadn’t but yet most people seem to agree that putting tobacco up to the same age limit as alcohol was the right thing to do.

I really struggle with telling people that they are old enough to have their say and be heard at the voting booth but on the other hand tell them that they are not old enough to enjoy other adult pursuits. Having different legal ages defining being an adult just doesn’t make any sense.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by the UK government in 1991, states that a child ‘means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.’ All four nations of the United Kingdom state that a child is anyone under the age of 18 but look at some of the strange add ons to this. Sex is fine if you are 16 or above but any photos or videos of consensual sexual activity of 16 or 176 year-olds is illegal. So have sex boys and girls – you are responsible enough to know what you are doing but taking photographs or videoing it is too much responsibility and isn’t allowed. Now I know why this is and I’m not going to argue against it but does it really make sense that the act is fine but having evidence of the act is not?

Also the age of criminal responsibility is 10 in three of the UK nations (it is 12 in Scotland) so you are old enough at 10 to know right from wrong in one country but if you live in another then you magically don’t know the difference until you are 12? Again this doesn’t add up. For example in Denmark until a couple of years ago the age of criminal responsibility was 15 (lowed to 14 in 2010) but in the USA it ranges from 6-12 depending on what state you live in. Yes a six year-old can be charged as an adult in North Carolina. Argentina has the highest threshold at 16 before any charges can be brought but 18 is the age where they can be charged as an adult.

So across the world different governments define being an adult as many different things. Are the kids in North Carolina really ten years more advanced than those in Argentina? No of course they are not. It just goes to show how difficult this subject is.

I back votes at 16 as a principle but I would like an age set (preferably 16, 17 or 18) where you are defined as an adult for everything. There should not be a case where 16 and 17 year-olds can do some adult stuff legally but not others. I can’t see how a person can be old enough to get married, have kids, join the armed forces, vote but yet we say they aren’t old enough to go buy a pint in a pub or buy a packet of cigarettes. If you are old enough for the former then surely you are old enough for the latter?

This isn’t an ideal world and as I said I was mature and educated enough to have a vote at 16 but I wasn’t in a position where I think I was mature enough to know whether I was ready to have sex or not. Yet I was legally allowed to do the thing I wasn’t ready for but wasn’t legally allowed to do the thing that I was more than ready.

This is a very hard one but surely when you are an adult you are an adult. You can’t be a bit of an adult. Some age limit has to be set but surely the best way for this is to be uniform across all government departments instead of having a situation where you are adult enough for one thing but not another. The move from being a child to an adult is different enough without throwing in all the different stages of being an adult as the law currently defines.

So votes at 16. Yes. However for votes at 16 then other things have to be at 16 too.

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