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So, when do you become a grown-up in the UK?

By Russell Grenning - posted Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Once upon a time - a long, long time ago – when I was young, the voting age was 21. We had 21st birthday parties to officially celebrate our "coming of age" and then we were legally and really proper grown-ups and we could vote and drink.

Then in 1973, the Whitlam Labor Government decided that people reached this magical maturity at the age of 18 although I understand that the old tradition of having 21st birthday parties still curiously exists, presumably in backward areas.

In the United Kingdom, the voting age was dropped to 18 in 1970 although the Scottish Parliament has allowed 16 and 17 year olds to vote in its election and also in Scottish local authority elections since 2015. As recently as 31 January in Parliament the UK Cabinet Office Minister and de facto Deputy Prime Minister Dr David Lidington, answering on behalf of the Prime Minister Theresa May, said that 16 and 17 year old people lacked the "maturity and responsibility" to have the right to vote. Ms May herself rejected lowering the voting age during the last general election campaign.


This sturdy resistance to lowering the voting age in the UK sits very oddly with the Conservative Government's stand on when young people should have the right to decide if they should be allowed to have the right to use sex-change drugs.

The UK Department of Health and Social Care has announced that young people have a right "to determine what happens to their own bodies" including giving consent to drug treatments that can sterilise them and stunt their growth. The Department has published on the UK Government website its response to a campaign by a Christian group, Voice for Justice, to restrict these drugs to adults over the age of 18.

Just in case the Department's view wasn't expressed clearly enough with that previous quote, they added, "If children have the capacity to give consent themselves, then consent should be sought direct from them" and, further, a child under 16 can consent to a sex change procedure "if they have sufficient understanding and intelligence to enable him or her to understand what is proposed".

Thus, we have to accept the UK Government's view that an intelligent, aware and responsible child of 16 or 17 can legally start the process of becoming transgender without the consent of his or her parents or guardian but cannot legally buy a drink in a pub or vote in a general election. You have to wonder what actually would have the most potentially devastating effect on them – sneaking a drink in a pub and making the wrong choice about who to support in a general election (I've done both in the past) or beginning treatments to change their gender. The UK Government obviously believes the former is far worse because 16 and 17 year old children don't have the "maturity and responsibility" to make decisions about when they should vote or drink but that they do have this maturity and responsibility to start a medical procedure which could have irreversible and potentially catastrophic results both physically and emotionally.

The Department of Health and Social Care believes that sex change drugs can be prescribed "generally once the patient is around 15 years old for hormone blockers and 16 years old for cross-sex hormones."

Their Minister, Jeremy Hunt, has remained conspicuously silent about his Department's view despite the fact that the petition from Voice for Justice was directed specifically at him. He has gone to ground leaving his Department to give the policy announcement which, predictably, has caused outrage from organisations and Members of Parliament holding traditional views about children's right to consent to anything and utter scorn and derision from those who advocate for a general, across-the-board lowering of the age of consent.


Meanwhile, a University researcher in the UK James Caspian who specialises working with transgender people proposed research to his university – Bath Spa – about "detransitioning", that is a process whereby people who have already begun the medical procedures to become transgender can stop and reverse the procedure. Despite being initially approved, the university suddenly changed its mind after Mr Caspian provided preliminary findings that growing numbers of young people – particularly women – were regretting gender reassignment.

He told the BBC, "The fundamental reason given (for reversing the initial approval) was that it might cause criticism of the research on social media and criticism of the research would be criticism of the university. They also added that it's better not to offend people."

Bath Spa University has ducked for cover and announced it is investigating the matter.

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About the Author

Russell Grenning is a retired political adviser and journalist who began his career at the ABC in 1968 and subsequently worked for the then Brisbane afternoon daily, The Telegraph and later as a columnist for The Courier Mail and The Australian.

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