Home Law International Handbook of Juvenile Justice
From a global perspective Denmark is a rich welfare state with a low crime rate and a low prison rate. Nevertheless criminal policy plays an important role on the contemporary political agenda. Danish criminal policy occurs in a political context and has a good deal in common with other Scandinavian countries. However, the current debates and developments suggest that Denmark may be taking the first significant divert steps from that road.
THE LEGAL STATUS OF JUVENILES
The legal status of juveniles varies across legal spheres in Denmark. Many legal definitions of age are of old origin and are widely seen by the public as “natural” in the sense that they do not generate much public discussion.1 This is the case for the age limit of 18 as a general age for becoming legally competent, including the ownership of property. The age of 18 is the age at which one can buy real estate, be married to a Danish citizen,  and decide for oneself which—if any—religious community one wants to join. Eighteen is also the age at which one may earn a driving license. The age for the right to vote at elections is 18, too. All in all one would say that the age of 18 is the most important age in regard to Danish legislation.
Within the latest decade the issue of age limits in the Danish legal system has received considerable attention. Not all new legal rules have reached the same broad acceptance and recognition as the abovementioned rules. Some of the new age limits have been much debated in public. A 2007 rule declares that children of all ages are to be heard about their wishes about which parent to live with when their parents are divorced (i.e., the question about whether they want to stay mainly with the mother or the father). Before this change only children above the age of 12 were explicitly involved in this matter. This issue received a good deal of debate. The pros argued that children had the right to influence their lives while those opposed criticized this change arguing that the children were placed in a tremendous dilemma and that the professionals were not sufficiently equipped for their part in this.
Another recent age limit which has been much debated is the rule that in order to marry a non-Danish citizen the Dane as well as the foreign partner must be 24 years old. Recall that 18 is the age at which Danish couples can marry. This rule existed because the authorities wanted to prevent marriages that were arranged by parents. The arguments against this rule were that young people travel much more now than years ago and the likeliness that they meet a future partner while travelling is higher now.
Apart from the above these relatively new and hotly debated legal regulation of the status of juveniles in Denmark, there has been a tendency to increase the amount and the scope of legal regulations in matters that before were seen as matters of parental responsibility. In the Danish context it was very unusual in the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s that national regulations intervened in questions like selling and using tobacco and alcohol. But lately regulations have been implemented that prohibit selling cigarettes to persons below 18 and beer to be sold to persons below 16 in drugstores. This can be seen as part of two tendencies in Danish society, namely (1) the focus on health and (2) a growing tendency for state intervention in what before was seen as private sphere. The main reason for this relatively new regulation is an effort to protect juveniles from their own possible lack of maturity and their parents’ possible lack of responsibility. In a Danish political context there is no difference in the attitude toward such questions regardless of whether it is the right wing or left wing parties are in power (Storgaard 2013). However, there are some inconsistencies if we look at the willingness to protect juveniles from state intervention. This will be illustrated below, mainly in part 3, 7, 8, and 9.
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