Legal ages uncovered: Young people and freedoms around the world 

From smoking and drinking alcohol to voting and getting a piercing, young people worldwide are restricted in what activities they can partake in up to a certain age. But what significant differences exist between the world’s major countries and their legal ages? 

Following a 100% increase in searches for the term ‘legal ages around the world’ between May and June 2022¹, our team delves into the laws of 19 countries to reveal the most stand-out differences in legal ages².

By analysing 19 of the leading countries across the globe, we pinpointed the most shocking ages young people could start to do ‘adult things’ such as get married, change name, learn to drive, and get a tattoo, among various other milestones, and analysed how these legal ages differ from the UK. According our new study, the most eye-opening differences in legal ages include:

  1. Smoking 

It’s illegal in most countries to purchase cigarettes until the age of 18, including in the UK. However, in the USA (21), Japan (20), India (21) and Philippines (21), the legal age to purchase cigarettes is slightly higher, discouraging people from becoming smokers even more. A recent review of smoking in the UK recommends that the legal age some can buy cigarettes should rise by a year, every year, in the hope of having a “smoke-free generation”.  

  1. Getting married 

Getting married could be considered one of the most important milestones in a person’s life. In most cases around the world, including the UK, people are able to marry at the age of 18. However, in India, girls are only allowed to get married at this age if the boy is 21 or over. While this could be perceived as unfair in some countries, it’s part of the Indian culture and follows the notion that men are supposed to be a woman’s ‘protector’. 

  1. Giving consent  

Consent is an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity, and the most common legal age to participate in such activity is reasonably set at 16 to 18 years old when a young person is able to judge scenarios and make informed decisions. In the UK, the legal age of consent is 16 years old, however, this legal age is considerably lower in other countries, including the Philippines (12), Japan (13), Italy (14), China (14), France (15), and Greece (15)³. 

  1. Transitioning gender 

The age people are able to transition using hormone therapy is varied across the 19 countries we studied. In the UK, it’s 16 years old, and in other countries such as the USA, China, France, Italy, and Canada, it’s 18. Unfortunately for young people hoping to transition in Japan, the legal age increases to 22, however for young people in Spain, transitioning can begin from the age of 14. 

  1. Voting

For the most part, being able to vote in political elections is a right acquired by people aged 18 and over. In the UK, the legal age is 18 years old, with Australia (16) and Israel (17) being slightly younger. In the UAE the legal age to vote is considerably higher at 25, due to this country half electing and half appointing its National Council⁴. 

  1. Learning to drive 

Learning to drive is one of the most exciting parts of becoming an adult, and it means one thing – freedom! However, with driving a car dubbed as one of the most dangerous daily activities, learning to drive at a suitable age is vital. For many countries across the world, including the UK, the legal age to learn how to drive is set at 17-18. Other countries are much lower, such as the USA (16), France (16), Italy (16), Israel (16), and Canada (16). 

  1. Buying alcohol

Buying and drinking alcohol is an act most people associate with turning 18, or 21 years old for young people in America. This is because alcohol use during teenage years is related to a wide range of health and social issues. In Japan (20), South Korea (19), and Canada (19), the legal age to purchase alcohol is slightly higher than in the UK, where the drinking age is set at 18 years old. 

  1. Opening a bank account 

Many countries allow parents to open a young person’s bank account for their children in order to save money that they can access at 18. For those young people in the UK wanting to open their own bank account, you have to be 18 and in other countries, this age varies from 16 to 18 years old. Our research shows that the UAE (21) and Australia (12) have the biggest age gap, with South Korea (14) posing a young legal age too.  

  1. Being able to change name 

There are many reasons why a person might want to change their name. In the UK and many other countries, you can change your name by deed poll at the age of 18, but the legal age in some other countries is much lower. In Russia, you can change your name at 14, whereas in Japan, there’s no age restriction. For countries such as the USA, UAE, Israel, Spain, Turkey, and Switzerland, you can switch up your name at 16 years old. 

  1. Getting ears pierced

In the UK, getting your ears pierced is something we’re able to do from a very young age, in fact, there’s no age restriction. This rings true for other countries too, such as the USA, Canada, and Spain, with Russia and China allowing six-month-olds and over to receive an ear-piercing. However, for an act that seems normal and innocent to those in the UK, the UAE, South Korea, and Switzerland state that you have to be 18 years old to obtain an ear piercing. 

Understanding cultures and beliefs across the globe 

With the current review of the legal smoking age in the UK, we were really interested in exploring legal ages for other activities in the UK, and how these ages compared with the rest of the world.

It’s fascinating to see how legal ages differ from the UK. We’re so set in our ways here, and it can be confusing to see how some legal ages are so much higher or lower in other countries. While in some cases, the ages are questionable in other countries, and at times upsetting to see, we have to understand that cultures across the globe adhere to different rules, and have different beliefs. 

At our community organisation, we teach our conscious girls and boys about culture and religion across the globe, and we encourage them to ask questions and be curious. It’s important that young people in the UK have an understanding about what laws young people in other countries have to stick to, in order to have compassion for them, and also so they can form their own opinions.

To learn more about the educational workshops we offer to young people, please visit: https://consciousyouth.co.uk/our-services/ 

Sources 

  1. Search volume data for the search term ‘legal ages around the world’ correct as of June 2022
  2. Study conducted by Huddersfield Community Organisation, Conscious Youth, in June 2022. Using Google search, Conscious Youth retrieved the noted legal ages for various activities from reputable third-party websites. According to the websites used for reference, the information is correct as of June 2022. Conscious Youth are not liable for misinformation. 
  3. Age of consent by country 
  4. United Arab Emirates National Council Information
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