Just what is our obsession with age these days? It seems sensible that there exist lower limits on things like driving, drinking and sex, but everyone seems to have forgotten that these limits only sit at comfortable integer boundaries because "when they're ready" isn't sufficiently logically quantifiable.
Take, for example, the story today (as reported by the BBC) about the Armed Forces inadvertently and illegally deploying under-18s in Iraq. The UN's "Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child", ratified by the UK in 2003, is designed to ensure that only over-18s can be deployed to active war zones. Fifteen under-aged soldiers shipped out "just before being eligible at 18" and "were taken off duties less than a week after arrival".
However, it seems to me that although the requirements of that convention were breached, the mistakes were seen to in pretty short order and I believe some people can't resist the urge to go a little overboard on reacting to this one.
Lib Dem education spokeswoman Sarah Teather goes as far as to claim that "there is no way people so young are mentally or emotionally prepared to face bloodshed on the scale seen in Iraq."
I don't honestly see how you can justify claiming that all 17-year olds are emotionally unprepared for war but that all 18-year olds should have no problem with it, especially when all the 17-year olds in question were quickly approaching their next birthday.
How much does a number really matter?
The government will never stop kids drinking under-age, but keeping the minimum age high will at least give them more of a sense that it's "wrong" and hopefully promote better parenting in ten years' time… and if there's anything this country needs it's the hope of better parenting. That seems especially important as the average age of a first-born child's parents (and the number of parents they have) creeps lower and lower.