Civic organizations on Tuesday called for legal amendments to lower the legal age of adulthood from 20 to 18. They pointed out that people aged 18 to 20 are not allowed to open bank accounts or sign up for mobile phone services, despite being subject to full criminal liability and military service.
The question of adulthood has also been raised in Japan, where the voting age for general elections was lowered to 18 in 2016, and the age for referendums last year. In Taiwan, the voting age for referendums was lowered to 18 in 2017, but not so for elections.
This raises the question of what defines adulthood and why certain adult privileges are allowed by law before others are.
An article posted to the Web site The Conversation in July last year said that age alone cannot be used to effectively determine adulthood, as the rates of biological, cognitive and emotional development vary in each individual.
However, those who perceive themselves to be adults tend to score better in certain benchmarks often used to determine adulthood, it said. Unfortunately, such a subjective definition is not usable from a legal perspective.
An article published on Jan. 5 on The Atlantic’s Web site quoted psychology professor Laurence Steinberg as saying: “Chronological age is not a particularly good indicator [of maturity], but it’s something we need to do for practical purposes.”
The human brain stops developing at about age 22 or 23, but learning can continue afterward, and the logical and reasoning components of the brain mature as early as age 16, the article said.
The biggest difference between a 16-year-old and someone much older is the ability to control impulsive behavior, but from a reasoning point of view the 16-year-old is equally capable, it added.
In many countries, including Taiwan, 16 is the age of consent. One might question the logic behind allowing a 16-year-old to engage in sexual intercourse — which could result in parenthood — but not allowing them to vote, purchase cigarettes or alcohol or even open a bank account.
The article stated that parenthood is often given as an answer as to what others consider to be a marker of adulthood.
“It’s not that you can’t be an adult unless you have kids, but for people who do, it often seems to be that flip-the-switch moment,” it said.
However, the way adulthood is defined has real consequences, so lawmakers should aim for consistency in how they define it. Either the age of consent should be raised, or the age of adulthood should be lowered.
Furthermore, if there is to be conscription, then people who are expected to be ready to die for their nation should be at least able to vote for their president.
While every individual physically and emotionally matures at a different rate, most would argue that engaging in sex, voting, driving, taking out bank loans, buying alcohol and entering military service are all actions that adults engage in. It makes little sense to allow or require one to engage in a select few of these things while disallowing them from engaging in the others.
An article posted to the Web site of US broadcaster PBS in April last year asked whether 16-year-olds should be allowed to vote. Council of the District of Columbia Representative Charles Allen in 2015 tried, unsuccessfully, to pass a bill to that effect, but the issue has come up again as more teens are engaging in protests and petitioning US lawmakers on issues such as gun violence, it said.
While the idea of letting 16-year-olds vote would likely face opposition in Taiwan at this time, if people are to define individuals as adults in one context, they should treat them as adults in all contexts.
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