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Summer 2008 Edition

The Reporter

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scales of justice

Community Issues in Criminal Justice

“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom; it is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”
William Pitt
1759 - 1806

Betwixt & Between; When Does a Child Become an Adult?

Ed. note: Our piece entitled Of Rights & Responsibilities, published in the Winter, 2007 Issue of The Reporter, examined the issue of lowering the age at which children might be charged under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. But there is another side to that discussion, which relates to the issue of when a child is “allowed” to begin taking on the responsibilities of adulthood. The discussion that follows examines this issue.

There has been a much discussed trend in North America over the past 2 decades for young people to remain at home well past their age of majority. Putting off getting married, the rising costs associated with higher education, skyrocketing prices for homes and the need to save for the down payment and the increasing consumer attraction for purchasing non essential items have all influenced the decision of many young people to remain in their family home until their late twenties and even thirties.

There are of course also cultural differences at play in determining the acceptable or appropriate age at which to leave one’s home, and gender can be an important factor as well.

Usually marriage is a precipitating factor in encouraging and/or allowing a young person to establish their own household with their new spouse.

In Canada, a recent survey reported that in 2006, 43.5% of young adults between 20-30 years of age still resided with one or both parents. This represents a significant increase from the 27.5 % in 1981 ( The percentage was highest in Newfoundland and Labrador where 52.2% of young people lived at home. In the same year, 50% of young men and women aged 20-24 lived with their parent(s) (ibid).

So in the face of this reality, it becomes an interesting issue when we ask what the minimum age is for a young person to be legally allowed to live independently from his or her parents or guardian.

The answer to this question is not as straightforward as one might expect. Surprisingly perhaps, there are virtually no guidelines concerning this matter in any legislation that address issues of child protection, safety and rights from most countries. There are detailed laws which deal with children requiring state intervention, the rights of the child under state ward ship or control, the age at which and with whom a child can have sexual intercourse, can drink, can drive, can vote, can kill (military service), can gamble or can leave school to list just a few. But legislation around when a young person can legally leave home or the guardianship of a responsible adult is strangely lacking.


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