The US has a losing record when it comes to minors. Children and teens in our society don’t have the same legal protections as their adult peers, but in every state they can still be tried as adults. In New York, kids as young as thirteen can be tried as adults.
Despite being treated as adults in criminal courts, when it comes to custody, teenagers don’t have much legal standing. Twenty-six states and DC don’t currently have an emancipation process that doesn’t involve teenagers getting married or joining the military.
Emancipation is legal adulthood. Emancipated minors don’t have voting rights and can’t purchase cigarettes and alcohol, but they do have full access to their money, can enroll themselves in school and enter into adult contracts and lawsuits.
In most of the states that have emancipation, the legal age to petition the court is sixteen. California allows minors to petition at fourteen, and in Alabama the minimum age to allow emancipation is eighteen (where the legal age of adulthood is nineteen because “state’s rights”)
Even if you’re a minor who does file for emancipation, you might need parental permission. In Illinois specifically, a parental objection to the petition ends the case automatically.
Generally, in those states where a minor can file for emancipation at a reasonable age and without their parents immediately shutting it down, minors have to already be living apart from their parents or have plans to move out. They have to be financially independent and if a woman is pregnant when she files for emancipation she has to prove that she can care for her child if she plans to keep it. Maturity and the minor’s academic record are factors in the court’s decision. And while you might think abusive parents don’t have the right to object to their children seeking emancipation, they do in most cases.
This is a real problem. Unfortunately it’s not one I paid much attention to before having to deal with it myself. My former home state of Ohio is one that has no legal emancipation process.
The other twenty five states (Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas ((because of course Texas)), Utah, and Wisconsin) make basically half of America a prison for minors.
Whether it’s gray lines on child abuse or flat out denial of minors as legal entities with rights, the US has a negative record on children’s rights. Keep in mind that emancipation and criminal prosecution (including the death penalty in some cases) are only the problems we inflict on our own children. If we’re talking about the US record with children in, say, Somalia, things are even worse.
What we really need is federal action. First to lower the legal age of adulthood to eighteen (fuck you Alabama), then to lower the voting age to sixteen, which is a separate issue but still important, and finally to allow children to file for emancipation at least by the time they’re sixteen, when they can legally get their GED and get a job. It won’t happen under President Obama because he’s too busy issuing executive orders about The Daily Show, but under President Sanders (or President Clinton if that’s how things go) this should become an issue.