essay:Age of majority

Preamble.

The purpose of the below document is to suggest a concrete proposal on the rights of young people. I propose that the general age of majority be made 15, and further I offer specific rights that people should have at 15, as well as some in which I allow a higher age to be set, but not over 18. The points I enumerate reflect not their importance, but how convinced I am. For example, I would not oppose lowering the voting age, but I do not feel strongly about it. On the other hand, I would strongly defend every one of the points I do list.

I should answer a few questions first:

1. Why an age of majority at all?

Many advocates have supported no age limit at all, thinking that only actual maturity need determine the capacity for adulthood. Aside from the fact that that would require fundamental changes in our legal system, there are serious objections to that. It is a fact that young children can not be treated as adults; therefote, it would be necessary for private parties to make distinctions themselves and there is no reason to believe that such would be more lenient than now.

2. Why 15?

People that have suggested younger threshold ages than 18 usually pick 14 or 16. I pick 15. I do not believe I could support an age below 14, both because of the problem I stated above and because I really do not believe children have sufficient maturity at that age. Though, of course, the difference between 14, 15, and 16 is not too significant, I choose 15 as it is a round number and the average of the three. Also, the age of 15 is already universally used in demographic studies to indicate adulthood and I see no good reason to oppose it.

This is also justified by neurological studies that show that the brain becomes essentially mature in the mid-teens, and not before.

3. Why mandatory laws?

I advocate enforcing laws on private business that insist they treat people as adults at 15 for many purposes. These laws are necessary, I feel, because there are several reasons to believe that businesses would not change unless forced to. As well as normal conservatism, legal liability and insurance regulations act against any change, and no business wants to be the first to change if that would give it any disadvantage.

Further, we already have anti-discrimination laws applying to all those businesses, so denying them their freedom to choose exactly who to deal with is not a new concept.

4. Why limit the scope?

A document like this, to appeal to the maximum number, must stay on point and not extend into other areas. Such extension will not attract more supporters, since the only people that will are those that support the core program anyway.

So, I have not included the many other areas where I believe our system could use reform. For example, I would change our education system, principally among 15-20 year old people. That is even related, but I would not include it here.


1. Legal and general

1.0 The general age of majority should be 15, and persons of that age treated as adults in all matters not specifically mentioned here.

Comment. Exceptions could be made, if necessary, for people who do not live independently nor have the means to; but no such exception should extend indefinitely without a court finding of incompetence. However, I do not think we would need such an exception, as there were not similar problems with lowering the age from 21 to 18.

1.1 Persons 15 and over should be subject to the same legal system as older adults, and the same laws. In particular younger adults should not be subject to different or more severe punishments for the same offence.

Comment. This would invalidate exemptions in statutory-rape laws for small age differences. However, I have never supported such exemptions, both for this reason and that they are not a very good way to identify the cases that should not be prosecuted.

1.2 Police should not be allowed to harass those 15 and over by detaining them and requiring them to contact their parents or someone else to pick them up. They must consider any person whose age is not known to be an adult if there is no good reason to believe otherwise.

Comment. This has actually happened to me, when I was over 18 even, which explains why I insist on including it.

1.3 It should not be a crime in itself to drink while underage, nor to have or allow underage drinking on one's property.

Comment. These laws do not really prevent underage drinking, and may make problems associated with it worse by erecting secrecy around it.

2. Employment and housing

Comment. This section is intended to guarantee to 15-year-olds access to the necessities of life on an equal basis. As such, most of it should be self-explanatory.

2.1 No job should arbitrarily have a minimum age higher than 15, except those few that are legally required to.

Comment. This means that a job must not exclude adult applicants solely because of their age. Of course, some jobs require qualifications that effectively prevent anyone getting them at age 15 or 18. This is OK as long as they are not arbitrary.

2.2 No housing (except that for seniors) should require a minimum age higher than 15. Any legal adult should be able to buy or rent any housing independently, and all buildings currently subject to any anti-discrimination laws (again, except those for seniors) should be required to sell or rent to those 15 and over on the same basis.

2.2a This includes hotel rooms, and hotels should be subject to the same requirements as apartment buildings.

Comment. I specifically include this for several reasons. I consider the ability to travel independently to be an obvious concomitant of adulthood and financial independence, and this would be restricted by the inability to use hotels.

2.3 All legal adults should have equal access to services from financial institutions, including opening standard accounts and getting a credit card (or equivalent).

2.4 All legal adults should have access to independent medical care.

3. Education

3.1 All persons 15 and older should have complete control over their own education.

3.2 No public educational institution should require a minimum age higher than 15 for entry.

Comment. Colleges and universities of course may require high school graduation or equivalent. Although most people do not have this at 15 or 16, those who do should be admitted on the same basis as older students.

3.3 Further, public educational institutions should treat all students that are legal adults as follows:

3.3a All such students should be free to enter any academic program they are otherwise qualified for.

3.3b All such students should have freedom of housing. They should be allowed to live anywhere they desire and the school may not inquire (beyond requiring a valid address for mailing and legal purposes).

Comment. This definitely outlaws the recent rule among universities that freshmen must live on campus. Since this rule was imposed due to fear or lawsuits and normal bureaucratic copying, there is no particular trouble in getting rid of it.

3.3c All such students that are pregnant or have given birth should be treated the same as other students, if they wish. They should not be required or forbidden to enter or continue in any program.

Comment. This is intended in part to combat the silly and hypocritical practice of considering pregnancy and motherhood to be different for younger women (i.e. 'teen pregnancy'). There is no good reason why such women can't continue their education normally during and after pregnancy, given that high school and college are not that much work. I do not deny that school may provide special programs for pregnant students or mothers, but they must not require such.

3.3d All such students should be allowed to drive to school and have equal access to on-campus parking (if any) with other students.

Comment. This seems a relatively unimportant issue. The reason I include it is to prevent schools from attempting to evade 3.3b by denying students living in unapproved places reasonable means to get to school.

4. Sexuality

4.1 The age of sexual consent should not be higher than 15 in any case.

Comment. The need for this is obvious. The age currently varies between 16 and 18 in this country, and changing it to 15 is the minimum that could be accepted along with this.

4.2 The age of marriage should be the same as the age of majority. The decision to marry should be made in all cases by the spouses only.

Comment. This also forbids the State from allowing marriages before legal adulthood, as such could not at all be considered the free choice of the parties. Historically, the justification for this was the avoidance of illegitimate children, but that holds little weight today.

4.3 All persons 15 and over should have the same access to abortion and contraception; however, no attempt should be made to coerce younger people into abortion or medical contraception.

Comment. This definitely prohibits any special programs to provide such only to younger people, as is difficult to imagine how that could not be coercive. This also argues against the present policy of denying sterilisation to young women (I believe the problem is less severe for young men) that desire it; thus any place that will perform sterilisation at all for non-medical reasons should not discriminate against younger adults.

5. Automobiles

Comment. Given the importance of driving to most people in our society, this deserves a special section.

5.1 All persons should have the opportunity to legally drive at age 15.

5.2 Restrictions may be placed on the licences of young drivers in the interest of safety, however:

Comment. I don't think I support such restrictions myself, but prohibiting them is not necessary either.

5.2a Such restrictions should not include a lower blood-alcohol limit.

5.2b Such restrictions should not prevent young people from driving to work, school, or other necessary activities.

5.2c Such restrictions should not extend past age 18.

5.3 The minimum age to rent a car should be lowered to 18 at least. Rental companies should not be allowed to bar or discourage customers of that age.

Comment. The minimum age is now 18, 21, or 25 in different states. It is clear that rental and insurance companies would make it 25 everywhere if they were allowed to, so a law is definitely required. I would not make the legal age 15 because of the real concerns involved with car rental.

6. Other

6.1 The age for purchasing alcohol should be lowered to 18 at least.

6.2 No picture or video should be considered illegal child pornography unless it demonstrably contains persons under 15. However, the minimum age for appearing in commercial productions of pornography may remain 18 or higher.

Comment. This is certainly required as legal adults should be free, at least, to take and distribute pictures of themselves and their partners without fear of the law. I would in fact prefer that mere possession of any material not be illegal at all, but again that is not essential. By 'demonstrably' I mean that for persons obviously underage - aged 6 or 8, say - it would be obvious from looking that they were underage, and therefore no further proof would be necessary. However, for ages 13 or 14, they might well not be obvious and external evidence would be required.


This is an essay created by Andrew Usher. Please do not edit it; but only comment in discussion.

Also see the original forum threads in which this was posted:

http://forums.youthrights.org/showthread.php?t=15726 (newer)

http://forums.youthrights.org/showthread.php?t=14961 (older)

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