Betwixt & Between… con't.

And this can result in considerable tensions, pain/hurt and frustrations/anger for those families in which a young person decides that they would rather live on their own.

From a wider perspective, the question of the rights of a child is closely related to the issue of our understanding of adolescence. This is an uncertain and somewhat vague stage in the development of a human being and is certainly laden with cultural values and associations. What is recognized by most societies, however, is that adolescence involves biological, social and psychological changes; where the differences arise is in the determination of what exactly these changes entail, which are the most important ones and in the difficulty of measuring some of these changes objectively (especially social ones).

Most societies around the world have come to recognize the age of 18 as the “age of majority” in the area of jurisprudence. This is the age at which the person transitions from being a dependent individual, with specified rights and protections, to one who is legally responsible for his or her actions. However, there is a range of variation around this age of 18 in terms of when one achieves specific rights. 14 to 16 year olds in many western countries can legally work or take out a driving license but they cannot sign a business contract or buy a house or car before age 18. Sexual activity is legal between minors from as young as 12 in some societies although there are rules around the age limits of their prospective partners. Voting can be at 18 (although some countries can delay that until 25), while drinking alcohol or smoking may deterred until 19 or even 21 years of age.

One of the unresolved issues in the West, and perhaps more especially, in North America, concerns the matter of what exactly can and should be expected of an adolescent and even more importantly, how they should be treated by their family and society as a whole.

This ambiguity is perhaps best demonstrated in the Canadian justice system. The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) of 2003 clearly establishes the rights and special protections of young people under the age of 18 who engage in criminal activity. However, the Act allows for the Crown to seek adult sentences for minors (16 – 17 year olds) if the crime of which they are accused is especially violent – specifically murder and aggravated sexual assault. Fortunately, a recent Court decision to retain the burden of proof on the Crown in seeking an adult sentence has at least not further complicated our commitment to treating under 18 year olds as individuals requiring special rights and protections.

It has been an interesting historical trend in Western societies over the past three hundred years (since the Industrial Revolution) to gradually extend the age of childhood/adolescence upwards. This shift has been both a judicial trend (starting with the early need for laws to protect children from unsafe, inhuman and exploitative labour demands) and a social one.

The social factors involved in this changing relationship of young people to society combine demographics, growing economic wealth, changing labour demands (such as increased skill levels required) and the rising importance of an education in fulfilling many public and private roles in an increasingly more complex world, to name just a few.

The net result of these influences has been the ability of families to encourage and sustain the delay of the age upon which their children are required to become independent. Thereby, individuals could remain being treated as “children” by their families until they are well past their 18th year.

However, even if this is a possibility for those who desire it, what are the options for those who wish to actually shorten this age of dependency?

Under Canadian law, there are two relevant sections of the Criminal Code which deal with rights of the child in regards to his or her parents or legal guardians. Section 218 makes it an offence for a parent to “abandon” their child under the age of 10, while section 215 stipulates it an offence to withhold the “necessities” of life from a child under the age of 16. Such necessities include food, shelter, clothing, etc.