Minor (law)

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In law, a minor is someone under a certain age, usually the age of majority, which demarcates an underage individual from legal adulthood. The age of majority depends upon jurisdiction and application, but it is commonly 18. Minor may also be used in contexts that are unconnected to the overall age of majority. For example, the smoking and drinking age in the United States is 21, and younger people below this age are sometimes called minors in the context of tobacco and alcohol law, even if they are at least 18. [1] [2] The terms underage or minor often refer to those under the age of majority, but may also refer to a person under other legal age limits, such as the age of consent, marriageable age, driving age, voting age, working age, etc. Such age limits are often different from the age of majority.


The concept of minor is not sharply defined in most jurisdictions. The age of criminal responsibility, of ability to legally consent to sexual activity, at which school attendance is no longer compulsory and thus a person may leave school, at which legally-binding contracts may be entered into, and so on and so forth, may be different from one another.

In many countries, including Australia, Serbia, [3] India, Brazil, Croatia, Colombia, and the UK a minor is defined as a person under the age of 18. In the United States, where the age of majority is set by individual states, "minor" usually refers to someone under 18 but can in some areas (such as alcohol, gambling, and handguns) mean under 21. In the criminal justice system a minor may be tried and punished either "as a juvenile" or "as an adult".

In Taiwan and Thailand, a minor is a person under 20 years of age, and, in South Korea, a person under 19 years of age. In New Zealand, the age of majority is also 20 years of age, [4] but most of the rights of adulthood are assumed at lower ages: for example, entering contracts and having a will are allowed at 15, [5] while the drinking and voting ages are both set at 18.



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, and the age varies across Canada.

Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, and Prince Edward Island have the age of majority set at 18, while in British Columbia, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick the age of majority is 19. [6] In the provinces of Saskatchewan, Ontario, New Brunswick, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, the legal gambling age and the legal drinking age are both 19, while in Alberta, Quebec, and Manitoba it is 18 which is the age of majority. [7]

Under cannabis laws, a minor means anyone under 19 in the country except for Quebec which has a legal age of 21, and Alberta which is age 18.


In Italy, law nr. 39 of March 8, 1975, states that a minor is a person under the age of 18. [8] Citizens under the age of 18 may not vote, be elected, obtain a driving license for automobiles or issue or sign legal instruments. Crimes committed in Italy by minors are tried in a juvenile court.


In all 31 states, a minor is referred to as someone under the age of 18.

Minors aged 16 or 17 who are charged with crimes could sometimes be treated as an adult.


In all 28 states and 8 union territories, a minor is referred to as someone under the age of 18. In rare cases minors aged 16 or 17 who are charged with extremely heinous crimes could sometimes be treated as an adult. [9]


The Civil and Commercial Code of the Kingdom of Thailand does not define minor; however, sections 19 and 20 read as follows:

Hence, a minor in Thailand refers to any person under the age of 20, unless they are married. A minor is restricted from doing juristic acts for example, signing contracts. When minors wish to do a juristic act, they have to obtain the consent from their legal representative, usually (but not always) the parents and otherwise the act is voidable. The exceptions are acts by which a minor merely acquires a right or is freed from a duty, acts that are strictly personal, and acts that are suitable to the person's condition in life and are required for their reasonable needs. A minor can make a will at the age of fifteen.

United Kingdom

In England and Wales, the Family Law Reform Act 1969 set the age of majority in both nations at 18. While in Northern Ireland, the age of majority is set at 18 by the Age of Majority Act (Northern Ireland) 1969 - (which directly corresponds to the former legislation, enacted in England and Wales). In Scotland, the Age of Legal Capacity (Scotland) Act 1991 sets out that the legal age of capacity within the country is 16.

The age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales and in Northern Ireland is 10; and 12 in Scotland, [10] formerly 8, which was the lowest age in Europe. [11] [12] [13]

In England and Wales, cases of minors breaking the law are often dealt with by a youth offending team. If they are incarcerated, they are sent to a Young Offender Institution.

Things that persons under 18 are prohibited from doing include 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, being depicted in pornographic materials, 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 permitted only upon the age of 21. The minimum age to drive a HGV1 vehicle was reduced to 18. However, certain vehicles, e.g., steamrollers, require that someone be 21 years of age to obtain an operating license.

United States

In the United States as of 1971, minor is generally legally defined as a person under the age of 18. However, in the context of alcohol or gambling laws (see legal drinking age and gambling age ), people under the age of 21 may also sometimes be referred to as minors. [1] [2] 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.

Under this distinction, those considered juveniles are usually (but not always) 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. [14] The death penalty for those who have committed a crime while under the age of 18 was discontinued by the U.S. Supreme Court case Roper v. Simmons in 2005. [15] The court's 5–4 decision was written by Justice Kennedy and joined by Justices Ginsburg, Stevens, Breyer, and Souter, and cited international law, child developmental science, and many other factors in reaching its conclusion.

The twenty-sixth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1971, granted all citizens the right to vote in every state, in every election, from the age of 18, reducing the minimum ages for most privileges that had previously been set at 21 (signing contracts, marrying without parental consent, termination of legal parental custody) to 18, with the exception of drinking, which had been raised to 21 around the 1980s due to teen drunk driving cases protested by the Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The U.S. Department of Defense took the position that they would not consider "enemy combatants" held in extrajudicial detention in the Guantanamo Bay detainment camps minors unless they were less than sixteen years old. [16] In any event, they separated only three of more than a dozen detainees under 16 from the adult prison population. Several dozen detainees between sixteen and eighteen 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 that allow a person accused of an extremely heinous crime, such as murder, to be tried as an adult, regardless of age. These laws have been challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union. An estimated 250,000 youth are tried, sentenced, or incarcerated as adults every year across the United States. [17]

Emancipation of minors

Emancipation of minors is a legal mechanism by which a minor is no longer under the control of their parents or guardians, and is given the legal rights associated with adults. Depending on country, emancipation may happen in different manners: through marriage, attaining economic self-sufficiency, obtaining an educational degree or diploma, or participating in a form of military service. In the United States, all states have some form of emancipation of minors. [18]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Age of criminal responsibility</span> Minimum age at which a child is capable of committing criminal offences

The age of criminal responsibility is the age below which a child is deemed incapable of having committed a criminal offence. In legal terms, it is referred to as a defence/defense of infancy, which is a form of defense known as an excuse so that defendants falling within the definition of an "infant" are excluded from criminal liability for their actions, if at the relevant time, they had not reached an age of criminal responsibility. After reaching the initial age, there may be levels of responsibility dictated by age and the type of offense committed.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Juvenile delinquency</span> Illegal behavior by minors

Juvenile delinquency, also known as juvenile offending, is the act of participating in unlawful behavior as a minor or individual younger than the statutory age of majority. These acts would otherwise be considered crimes if the individuals committing them were older. The term delinquent usually refers to juvenile delinquency, and is also generalised to refer to a young person who behaves an unacceptable way.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Youth</span> Time between childhood and adulthood

Youth is the time of life when one is young. The word, youth, can also mean the time between childhood and adulthood (maturity), but it can also refer to one's peak, in terms of health or the period of life known as being a young adult. Youth is also defined as "the appearance, freshness, vigor, spirit, etc., characteristic of one, who is young". Its definitions of a specific age range varies, as youth is not defined chronologically as a stage that can be tied to specific age ranges; nor can its end point be linked to specific activities, such as taking unpaid work, or having sexual relations.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Age of majority</span> Threshold of adulthood as it pertains to law

The age of majority is the threshold of legal adulthood as recognized or declared in law. It is the moment when a person ceases to be considered a minor and assumes legal control over their person, actions, and decisions, thus terminating the control and legal responsibilities of their parents or guardian over them. Most countries set the age of majority at 18, but some jurisdictions have a higher age and others lower. The word majority here refers to having greater years and being of full age as opposed to minority, the state of being a minor. The law in a given jurisdiction may not actually use the term "age of majority". The term typically refers to a collection of laws bestowing the status of adulthood. Those under the age of majority are referred to as minors and are legally forbidden from enjoying certain privileges or rights. There are other exceptions, however, in which also those who have reached the age of majority can be referred to as minors. For example, if a country's age of majority is 18, but the legal drinking age is 21, then a 20 year old would still be considered a "minor" in situations involving buying or consuming alcohol. Another example is the age to consent to sexual activity, that in most of the cases in the world is under the age of majority, however, in other cases it can be even above the age of majority and even in that case the younger part, despite having already reached the legal adulthood, would be still referred to as minor or underage to consent to sexual activity.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Legal drinking age</span> Minimum age at which a person can legally purchase or consume alcoholic beverages

The legal drinking age is the minimum age at which a person can legally consume alcoholic beverages. The minimum age alcohol can be legally consumed can be different from the age when it can be purchased in some countries. These laws vary between countries and many laws have exemptions or special circumstances. Most laws apply only to drinking alcohol in public places with alcohol consumption in the home being mostly unregulated. Some countries also have different age limits for different types of alcohol drinks.

Emancipation of minors is a legal mechanism by which a minor before attaining the age of majority is freed from control by their parents or guardians, and the parents or guardians are freed from responsibility for their child. Minors are normally considered legally incompetent to enter into contracts and to handle their own affairs. Emancipation overrides that presumption and allows emancipated children to legally make certain decisions on their own behalf.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Juvenile court</span> Court to try minors for legal offenses

Juvenile court, also known as young offender's court or children's court, is a tribunal having special authority to pass judgements for crimes committed by children who have not attained the age of majority. In most modern legal systems, children who commit a crime are treated differently from legal adults who have committed the same offense.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alcohol consumption by youth in the United States</span> Alcohol consumption by individuals under the age of 18 in the country

Although the minimum legal age to purchase alcohol is 21 in all U.S. states and most territories, the legal details for consumption vary greatly. Although some states completely ban alcohol usage for people under 18, the majority have exceptions that permit consumption.

A status offense is an action that is prohibited only to a certain class of people, and most often applied only to offenses committed by minors.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">American juvenile justice system</span> Aspect of American justice system

The American juvenile justice system is the primary system used to handle minors who are convicted of criminal offenses. The system is composed of a federal and many separate state, territorial, and local jurisdictions, with states and the federal government sharing sovereign police power under the common authority of the United States Constitution. The juvenile justice system intervenes in delinquent behavior through police, court, and correctional involvement, with the goal of rehabilitation. Youth and their guardians can face a variety of consequences including probation, community service, youth court, youth incarceration and alternative schooling. The juvenile justice system, similar to the adult system, operates from a belief that intervening early in delinquent behavior will deter adolescents from engaging in criminal behavior as adults.

In the United States, a Minor in Possession or a MIP, is any person under the legal drinking age of 21 who possesses or consumes alcohol. Underage consumption is illegal, typically a misdemeanor. In California, depending on the county in which the person is charged, the crime may also be charged as an infraction. Anyone under the age of 21 who possesses alcohol in the United States with the exception of special circumstances is violating the law of the state.

Juvenile law pertains to those who are deemed to be below the age of majority, which varies by country and culture. Usually, minors are treated differently under the law. However, even minors may be prosecuted as adults.

The youth justice system in England and Wales comprises the organs and processes that are used to prosecute, convict and punish persons under 18 years of age who commit criminal offences. The principal aim of the youth justice system is to prevent offending by children and young persons.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Youth rights</span> Equal rights movement

The youth rights movement seeks to grant the rights to young people that are traditionally reserved for adults, due to having reached a specific age or sufficient maturity. This is closely akin to the notion of evolving capacities within the children's rights movement, but the youth rights movement differs from the children's rights movement in that the latter places emphasis on the welfare and protection of children through the actions and decisions of adults, while the youth rights movement seeks to grant youth the liberty to make their own decisions autonomously in the ways adults are permitted to, or to lower the legal minimum ages at which such rights are acquired, such as the age of majority and the voting age.

In common law jurisdictions, statutory rape is nonforcible sexual activity in which one of the individuals is below the age of consent. Although it usually refers to adults engaging in sexual contact with minors under the age of consent, it is a generic term, and very few jurisdictions use the actual term statutory rape in the language of statutes. In statutory rape, overt force or threat is usually not present. Statutory rape laws presume coercion because a minor or mentally disabled adult is legally incapable of giving consent to the act.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ages of consent in the United States</span> U.S. law on age of consent to sexual activity

In the United States, each state and territory sets the age of consent either by statute or the common law applies, and there are several federal statutes related to protecting minors from sexual predators. Depending on the jurisdiction, the legal age of consent is between 16 and 18. In some places, civil and criminal laws within the same state conflict with each other.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Youth incarceration in the United States</span>

The United States incarcerates more of its youth than any other country in the world, although reports claim China has around 600,000 juveniles imprisoned which would be more than the US, through the juvenile courts and the adult criminal justice system, which reflects the larger trends in incarceration practices in the United States. In 2010, approximately 70,800 juveniles were incarcerated in youth detention facilities alone. As of 2006, approximately 500,000 youth were brought to detention centers in a given year. This data does not reflect juveniles tried as adults. As of 2013, around 40% were incarcerated in privatized, for-profit facilities.

Trial as an adult is a situation in which a juvenile offender is tried as if they were an adult, whereby they may receive a longer or more serious sentence than would otherwise be possible if they were charged as a juvenile.

Montana Youth Courts are courts of law in the U.S. state of Montana which have jurisdiction over any minor charged with violating any state law or city and county city ordinance, except for fish and game ordinance violations and traffic violations. Appeals from Youth Courts are made directly to the Montana Supreme Court.


  1. 1 2 "Liquor Control Act". State of Connecticut. 'Minor' means any person under twenty-one years of age.
  2. 1 2 "Offenses Against the Family". State of Tennessee. As used in this section, minor means a person under twenty-one (21) years of age.
  3. "Zakon o maloletnim učiniocima krivičnih dela i krivičnopravnoj zaštiti maloletnih lica". www.paragraf.rs (in Serbian). Retrieved 2021-07-31.
  4. "Age of Majority Act 1970" . Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  5. Richard Rudman. Zealand Employment Law Guide (2013 edition). Retrieved June 13, 2015.
  6. "Age of Majority Table". Archived from the original on 2012-07-18. Retrieved 2009-11-26.
  7. "Drinking age will remain 19 in Saskatchewan". CBC News. (March 8, 2013). Retrieved June 13, 2015.
  8. "Italie". WIPO Lex . WIPO . Retrieved 7 September 2012.
  9. Coleman, Bennet & (2017-12-21). "Class XI student to be tried as adult for Ryan boy's Murder". The Times of India. Retrieved 2017-12-23.
  10. "Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019".
  11. "Age of criminal responsibility".
  12. "Youth justice – Department of Justice". youthjusticeagencyni.gov.uk. 2 September 2015.
  13. "Children and the Scottish Criminal Justice System" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-02-04. Retrieved 2013-01-21.
  14. Gaines, Larry K and Roger Leroy Miller. "Criminal Justice in Action" 4th ed., Thompson Wadsworth Publishing, 2007. Pg 495
  15. "Roper v. Simmons (No. 03-633)". LII / Legal Information Institute.
  16. Schmitz, Gregor Peter (April 2011). "Files Reveal Many Inmates Were Minors". Der Spiegel.
  17. "Campaign for Youth Justice, Key Facts: Youth in the Justice System. Washington, D.C.: Campaign for Youth Justice, 2007. Web. May 2011. Citing Woolard, J. "Juveniles within Adult Correctional Settings: Legal Pathways and Developmental Considerations." International Journal of Forensic Mental Health 4.1 (2005)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-05-22. Retrieved 2013-04-02.
  18. Staff, L. I. I. (6 August 2007). "Emancipation of Minors". LII / Legal Information Institute.