The age of consent
When do children become adults? asks 16-year-old EMILY THOMSON
As a 16-year-old, I find there’s real confusion as to what you can do at what age and why. I’ve been able to own an air rifle for two years but I can’t buy fireworks until I’m 18. I can work full time and pay National Insurance, but can’t claim a full minimum wage for five more years. I’ve been able to register as an organ donor for four years now, but I can’t give blood until I turn 17. I can get a skin piercing without my parents’ consent but I can’t get a tattoo. I can’t vote for my local MSP until I’m 18, but according to recent SNP proposals I’m going to vote on the future of Scotland.
The government needs to standardise the age at which it believes people are adults. Either you’re an adult at 16 and have the full set of adult rights at 16 or you have to wait until 18. At the moment we don’t understand whether we’re adults or children so have to make do with the ambiguous title “young adult” or, even worse, “youth”.
There are advantages to defining 16-year-olds as adults. Mainly, it would help to force situations affecting young adults into the spotlight, for example, the minimum wage for 16-year-olds being just over half the full minimum wage, negative stereotyping of young people and a lack of facilities for young people in many areas. By allowing us to vote, politicians would have to start addressing these issues. With the introduction of 16-year-old voters, it allows people my age to learn about politics through school and receive a broader education in current affairs as well as encouraging us to vote from a younger age. So many of my friends only have a political viewpoint because of occasional newspaper articles their parents’ opinion. By counting 16-year-olds as adults, it would promote the teaching of politics in schools, changing the culture and enthusing young people for life.
However voting at 16 could cause some significant problems. The main one is that, whilst some 16 year olds do leave home and get a full time job, most do not. We are therefore not as affected by adult issues because we are still at school. In addition, by lowering the adult age to 16, we would be allowed to be sent to war zones, buy alcohol, smoke, bet and stand for Parliament. This would make it much harder for schools to discipline teenage drinking and smoking, and sending 1616-year-olds to war zones would probably cause international outcry.
Therefore 16 does seem quite young for full adulthood and perhaps most consents should be set at 18. This would probably mean following controversial plans from earlier this century to raise school leaving age to 18 with the option of entering training or apprenticeship schemes potentially causing benefits such decreased youth unemployment and a more skilled workforce. Eighteen-year-old adults would mean no more 16-year-old brides. Although reversing one of Scotland’s more traditional laws of a marriage and sexual consent age would be controversial, it is a fairly out-dated law. Very few people now get married so young in Scotland and it may be an advantage for them to wait a couple more years to marry. It could also help to deal with rapidly increasing numbers of teenage pregnancies and teenagers with STIs which is a growing problem.
There are also some levels of consent that don’t happen until 21 and setting adulthood at 18 would decrease certain age restrictions. At the moment, no one can be sent to adult prisons unless they are over 21 despite the fact that everyone can be held accountable for their actions if they are over the age of 18. Although it would obviously be cruel to send an 18 year old to adult prison, it doesn’t seem fair to send two people who have the same crime to different places because one of them is 21 and one is 18. Overall, by increasing the age of adulthood to 18, we “youths” would finally understand that we are not yet adults and shouldn’t behave like we are – there could be serious advantages to raising the age of adulthood to 18.
This still leaves the question, should 16-year-olds be allowed to vote in the Scottish referendum? Unless all elections are moved to include those 16-year-olds, I am against having a different voting age for the Scottish Referendum than at other elections. It simply increases the confusion as to when the age of adulthood starts and looks as if it is being done for political reasons rather than a proper argument for when the age of adulthood should begin. As for what age that should be, now that we live longer and more of us don’t leave school until later, 18 does seem to be a sensible age to standardize the age of consents.
Emily Thomson is a 16 year old student in Edinburgh, with an interest in politics and economics.