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The term minor is used to refer to a person who is under the age in which one legally assumes adulthood and is legally granted rights afforded to adults in society. Depending on the jurisdiction and application, this age may vary, but is usually marked at either 12, 16, 18, 20, or 21. Specifically, the status of minor is defined by the age of majority.[verification needed]
In New Zealand law, a minor is a person under 20 years of age, but most of the rights of adulthood are assumed at lower ages: for example, voting, entering into contracts, and having a will are all legally possible at 18.
In many countries, including Australia, Canada, India, Philippines, United Kingdom, Brazil and Croatia, a minor is presently defined as a person under the age of 18. In the United States, where the age of majority is set by the individual states, minor usually refers to someone under the age of 18, but can be used in certain areas (such as gambling and the consuming of alcohol) to define someone under the age of 21.
In the criminal justice system in some places, minor is not entirely synonymous, as a minor may be tried for a crime (and punished) as a juvenile or an adult (usually only for extremely serious crimes such as murder).
In Australia, there are several gradations of responsibility before full legal adulthood. Those under age ten are free of all criminal responsibility under the doli incapax doctrine of UK legal tradition. Those under the age of fourteen are presumed incapable of responsibility, but this can be disputed in court. The age of full legal responsibility is 18 except Queensland where it is 17. The age of majority in all states and territories is 18.
The age of majority is 18 for most purposes including sitting on a jury, voting, standing as a candidate, marriage, hiring R-rated films or seeing them in a theater, buying/viewing pornography and purchasing alcohol and tobacco products. The age of consent is 16 in all states and in Queensland consent for anal sex is 18. A person under 18 is defined as a minor or a child.
For all provincial laws (such as alcohol and tobacco regulation), the provincial and territorial governments have the power to set the age of majority in their respective province or territory, so as such, the age varies across Canada. Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, and Prince Edward Island have the age set at 18, while in British Columbia, Ontario, Yukon Territories, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick the age of majority is 19.
For Federal Law (Criminal Code, Voting, etc.), the age of majority is 18.
- Main article: Youth Criminal Justice Act
In England and Wales and in Northern Ireland a minor is a person under the age of 18; in Scotland, under the age of 16. The age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales and in Northern Ireland is 10; and 12 in Scotland, formerly 8 which was the lowest age in Europe.
The age of majority is 18 for most purposes including sitting on a jury, voting, standing as a candidate, buying or renting films with an 18 certificate or R18 certificate or seeing them in a cinema, modelling for pornography, suing without a litigant friend, being civilly liable, accessing adoption records and purchasing alcohol, tobacco products, knives and fireworks. The rules on minimum age for sale of these products are frequently broken so in practice drinking and smoking takes place before the age of majority; however many UK shops are tightening restrictions on them by asking for identifying documentation from potentially underage customers.
Driving certain large vehicles, acting as personal license holder for licensed premises and adopting a child are only permitted after the age of 21.
In the United States as of 1995, minor is legally defined as a person under the age of 18, although, in the context of alcohol, people under the age of 21 may be referred to as "minors." However, not all minors are considered "juveniles" in terms of criminal responsibility. As is frequently the case in the United States, the laws vary widely by state.
In eleven states, including Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, South Carolina, and Texas, a "juvenile" is legally defined as a person under seventeen. In three states, Connecticut, New York, and North Carolina, "juvenile" refers to a person under sixteen. In other states a juvenile is legally defined as a person under eighteen.
Under this distinction, those considered juveniles are usually tried in juvenile court, and they may be afforded other special protections. For example, in some states a parent or guardian must be present during police questioning, or their names may be kept confidential when they are accused of a crime. For many crimes (especially more violent crimes), the age at which a minor may be tried as an adult is variable below the age of 18 or (less often) below 16 [Gaines, Larry K and Roger Leroy Miller. "Criminal Justice in Action" 4th ed., Thompson Wadsworth Publishing, 2007. Pg 495]. For example, in Kentucky, the lowest age a juvenile may be tried as an adult, no matter how heinous the crime, is 14.
In most states, juveniles cannot be housed with adult inmates, even if the child is charged as an adult. This is also discouraged by the federal government, which prefers funding only if children and adults are housed in separate facilities. This leads to a lot of subsidiary questions such as whether a juvenile now past their eighteenth birthday can be sentenced to adult jail for a conviction based on behavior that happened before that birthday. As with the adult system, the juvenile justice system has become more and more punitive over time, despite a juvenile's lack of right to a jury in juvenile court, often lower brain development (because of their youth), and evidence that incarceration and even probation lead to a higher incidence of reoffending for juveniles than non-punitive consequences.
The death penalty in the U.S. for those that committed a crime while under the age of 18 was discontinued by the U.S. Supreme Court Case Roper v. Simmons in 2005. The court's 5-4 decision was written by Justice Kennedy and joined by Justices Ginsburg, Stevens, Breyer, and Souter, and cited international law, as well as child developmental science and many other factors in reaching its conclusion.
The age of consent for sexual activity is often lower than the age of majority, frequently using a graduated scale based on the difference in age between the participants. There is an absolute minimum age, however, varying from state to state, below which a minor may not consent. The lowest age for a legal marriage also varies by state. In the US the ages range from sixteen to seventeen.
The twenty-sixth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1971, granted all citizens 18 years of age or older the right to vote in every state, in every election.
- Main article: Minors detained in the global war on terror
The US Department of Defense took the position that they would not consider the "enemy combatants" they held in extrajudicial detention in the Guantanamo Bay detainment camps to be minors unless they were less than sixteen years old.[verification needed] In the event they only separated three of the more than a dozen detainees who were under 16 from the adult prison population. All the several dozen detainees who were between sixteen and eighteen years of age were detained with the adult prison population. Now those under 18 are kept separate in line with the age of majority and world expectations.
Some states, including Florida, have passed laws allowing one who commits an extremely heinous crime, such as murder, to be tried as an adult, regardless of age. These laws, however, have faced the challenges of the ACLU.
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