Young citizen: rights and responsibilities

Young people acquire rights and responsibilities at different ages. At ten, for instance, a child may be tried in a youth court and found guilty at a crime. At the age of 18 they finally cease to be a ‘minor’: in the eyes of the law, an 18-year-old has reached the ‘age of majority’. But even then, there are certain things you cannot do. For example, you cannot stand for Parliament until you are 21. Let us understand these rights age-wise:

From birth

  • A child can have a deposit or current bank account right from her or his birth. However, the account cannot be in her or his name. This is because an account holder has to be able to sign their own name.

Three years

  • A child is entitled to 15 hours of free childcare a week during school term time between the ages of three and four. They are entitled to 30 hours funded childcare if their parents earn more than the equivalent of 16 hours at the national living wage or minimum wage per week and earn less than £100,000 per year.

Four years

  • A child can start full time education in a reception class at the age of four.

Five years

  • A child must start her or his education at this age.

Ten years

  • At the age of 10, a child can be found guilty of a crime under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. S/he can be convicted of a criminal offence but will be tried in a youth court unless the offence is serious, such as murder.

Eleven years

  • Some banks allow children aged 11 or over to open a bank account, but not one with an overdraft.

Fourteen years

  • At the age of 14, a child can get a part-time job as permitted under local authority by-laws for a maximum of two hours on a school day, working sometime between 7am and 8am and 5pm and 7pm. They can work Sundays between 7am and 7pm, but only for two hours. They can work up to five hours on Saturdays between 7 am and 7pm. During school holidays they can work five hours a day from Monday to Saturday. But they can only work two hours a day on Sundays. They can go into a bar and order soft drinks. If convicted of a serious criminal offence (in a Youth Court), they can be held in secure accommodation for up to 24 months. They can also be fined up to £1,000. Wearing a seatbelt becomes a child’s personal responsibility at this age.

Fifteen years

  • Fifteen-year-olds can have a part-time job on the same hours as someone age 14, with the exception of Saturdays when they are allowed to work up to eight hours between 7am and 7pm (if they’re 15 or over but under school-leaving age). They can view, rent or buy a 15 rated film. If awaiting trial for a criminal offence, they can be held in a remand centre. If convicted, they can be sentenced to up to two years in a young offenders institute.

Sixteen years

  • There are many rights that a child acquires at this age. S/he can: give consent to medical, dental and surgical treatment; join the armed forces, get married or leave home (with parental consent); have gay or straight sex (with someone age 16 or over); leave school (provided you turn 16 by the end of the summer holidays. If they started secondary school after September 2008, however, they must stay in school until age 17); access free full-time further education or take a year off for training or study; claim benefit and obtain a National Insurance number; apply for legal aid; drink a beer, wine, or cider with a meal in a pub or restaurant if accompanied by an adult; obtain a provisional licence and ride a 50cc moped; work as a street trader and/or sell scrap metal; choose a doctor; work full time if they’ve left school; pay for prescription charges; order a passport; receive a youth rehabilitation order if convicted of a criminal offence; play the National Lottery; buy premium bonds; fly a glider.

Seventeen years

  • At this age a child can: become a blood donoror leave their body for medical study; drive most kinds of vehicles (as long as accompanied by someone age 21+ if they only have a provisional licence); drive alone if they pass their driving test; apply for a private pilot’s licence for a plane, helicopter, gyroplane, hot air balloon and airship; be interviewed by the police without an adult present and be given a reprimand or a warning; be sent to a remand centre or prison if charged with an offence and not granted bail.

Eighteen years

  • Eighteen is the ‘age of majority’. On reaching this age, a person can: buy alcoholic drinks in a pub or a bar; pawn items in a pawn shop; have a tattoo; drive lorries weighing up to 7.5 tonnes, with a trailer attached; vote in local and general elections; stand for election as an MP, local councillor or Mayor; serve on a jury, be tried in a magistrates court and be jailed if convicted of a criminal offence; see their original birth certificate if they were adopted; make a will; get married without parental consent; view, rent or buy an 18 rated film; buy fireworks; place a bet in a betting shop/casino; buy cigarettes, rolling tobacco and cigarette papers; open a bank account;.

Twenty-one years

  • At this age an individual can: apply to adopt a child; supervise a learner driver (with the rights driving licence); apply for licences to fly commercial transport aeroplanes, helicopters, gyroplanes and airships; drive buses, road rollers and lorries over 7.5 tonnes with a trailer (with the right licences).
Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.