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Your Rights

Legal Ages.

Legal Ages

As you grow up, the law gives you different rights and responsibilities depending on how old you are. Here’s a list of some key legal differences at different ages.

10 Days

  • A baby can only be adopted 10 full days after they are born. In practicality, in accordance with Oranga Tamariki, the birth mother is able to legally have the baby adopted out when the baby is at least 12 days old.

2 Years

  • Before you turn 2, your parents can change your name by writing to the Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages. After this, your parents can only change your name by statutory declaration.

5 Years

6 Years

  • You have to be enrolled in a school. If your parents want to home-school you, they need to get an exemption from the Ministry of Education.

10 Years

12 Years

14 Years

  • You legally stop being a ‘child’ and become a ‘young person’. This means that you can be held criminally responsible for breaking any law. You will generally be dealt with under the Youth Justice System.
  • Your parents are allowed to leave you at home without supervision.
  • You can babysit children (if you’re capable of providing reasonable care and supervision to those children).

15 Years

  • Your parents or guardians can apply for special permission for you to leave school early.
  • You’re personally responsible if you don’t wear a seatbelt in a vehicle.

16 Years

  • You qualify as either an adult worker or a starting-out worker. This means you’re entitled to get paid at least the minimum wage or the starting-out wage for any work you do for an employer.
  • You can legally consent to sex after you turn 16. You’re also allowed to get married or enter a civil union or a de facto relationship, if your parents or guardians agree.
  • You’re allowed to leave home and choose where you want to live.
  • You can apply to get your learners drivers licence.
  • You can decide which parent you want to live with if your parents are split up.
  • You can independently agree to, or refuse, medical treatment.
  • You can choose to leave school.
  • If you have left school, you are able to work full-time.
  • Your parents can’t change your name unless you consent to it. If you are married or in a civil union, you can change your name or make a will.
  • You can apply for a firearms licence.
  • You can get an adult passport.

17 Years

  • If you are charged with a “less serious” offence at 17, you will go through the youth justice system. If you are charged with a “more serious” offence at 17, you will be treated as an adult in the criminal justice system.
  • You can apply to join the Police Force (to start training at the Police College and to become a Police Officer when you’re 18).
  • You can generally apply to join the Navy, Army or Air Force.

18 Years

  • Your parents no longer have any of the rights or responsibilities that come from being your guardian.
  • You’re allowed to get married or enter a civil union without your parents’ or guardians consent.
  • You’re allowed to vote once you’ve turned 18. You can also stand as an election candidate if you want to.
  • You are no longer treated as a ‘young person’ under criminal law, and you will be charged under the adult court system.
  • You can’t be put in an OT residence.
  • The Police are no longer allowed to take you home or to a youth residence or shelter if they think you’re ‘at risk’.
  • You can be questioned by police without your parents or other guardians present.
  • You’re allowed to buy alcohol and cigarettes, and gamble at TAB.
  • You can buy Instant Kiwi tickets.
  • You’re allowed to change your own name.
  • You can be employed as a bar person or work in a liquor store.
  • You can be employed to work in premises with a restricted licence.
  • You can become a police officer (but you can start applying for Police College at the age of 17).
  • You can ask your bank for an individual cheque account, credit card or loan.
  • You are fully bound by any contract you enter into, such as a tenancy agreement or consumer credit contract.
  • You can be called in for jury service.

19 Years

  • If you are adopted, you can prevent your birth parents from being able to access any information about you for the next ten years.

20 Years

  • You reach the ‘age of majority’ when you turn 20. This means that you’re legally an adult.
  • Before you turn 20, there is a zero tolerance blood alcohol limit when you’re driving, meaning you can’t drink at all before driving. After you turn 20, you’re allowed to drive with a small amount of alcohol in your system.
  • You’re allowed to gamble in a casino.
  • You are allowed to adopt a relative.
  • If you were adopted as a child, you can apply to Births, Deaths and Marriages for a copy of your birth certificate to find the names of your birth parents.

25 Years

  • If you’re 25 years of age or older, you’re allowed to adopt someone that you’re not related to. You have to be at least 20 years older than they are.

What things don’t have a legal age?

There are some things that you can do, or have to do, regardless of your age.

At any age you can:

  • Negotiate an employment agreement.
  • Get a passport.
  • Travel overseas.
  • Make a claim in the Disputes Tribunal.
  • Buy contraceptives.
  • Have an abortion without parental consent.
  • Join a union.
  • Buy a lotto ticket.
  • Have the right to not be discriminated against on the basis of your sex, religious or ethical beliefs, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, political opinion, or employment or family status.

At any age you must:

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