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A legal age is the age at which some particular activity, such as the consumption of alcohol or the use of tobacco products, becomes legal. There are many responsibilities and privileges that are legally imposed or granted based on an individual's age. Engaging in these activities, such as consuming alcohol, when one is not of the legal age is often illegal. Such age limits typically exist to protect individuals in some way; the age of consent, for example, protects the bodily rights of those the government does not consider old enough to make prudent decisions concerning their sexuality.
There are many different ages that have significant legal and social significance. The specific ages vary based on the social, cultural, and legal conditions of a given place. Sometimes, reaching a certain legal age is considered a "coming of age," when one is officially considered to be an adult. In the United States, this age is usually 18, at which point one tends to finish high school and go off to college or enter the workforce.
The drinking age is the age in which it is permissible to purchase or consume alcohol. In the United States, the legal drinking age is 21. In many other parts of the world, the legal age for alcohol consumption is 18 or lower. The laws concerning drinking ages generally are based on the perceived health effects of alcohol on young bodies and on the level of responsibility exhibited by many young people. In some cases, such as for religious purposes, exceptions are made and alcohol consumption is legal for those below the legal age.
One is allowed to marry once one reaches a marriageable age, or the legal age of marriage. This age varies based on a number of factors, such as gender and parental permission. In the United States, the marriageable age is usually 18 for males and females; this may drop to 16 or lower with parental consent in some US states. In some countries, such as Pakistan, females are allowed to marry at younger ages than males. This is based generally on the religious and social atmosphere of the region.
Another important age to reach is the legal age of voting, the age at which one can participate in the democratic process of voting on issues and leaders. With few exceptions, the voting age for all democratic countries is 18 or lower. This corresponds with the age at which one takes on most of the responsibilities and privileges of adulthood.
The idea of legal adulthood is extremely interesting to me, because there are so many variations in personal emotional and social development. However, the legal ages laws in different "westernized" countries are as follows:
Australia: 10- criminal responsibility, 16/18- legal adulthood (depending on the area)
Canada: 18/19- legal adulthood (depending on the area)
UK: 10/12- criminal responsibility, 18- legal adulthood, 21- adoption, personal license holder, etc.
US: 18- legal adulthood, 14 through 18- adult criminal responsibility (depending on area), 21- alcohol possession and consumption.
The legal age of consent varies considerably throughout all of the world.
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