The legal drinking age varies greatly throughout different countries and cultures, as well as having a large number of different sub laws regarding specific types of alcohol. Although generally the late teens are thought of internationally as the right time for people to be able to drink, there are plenty of countries that have set their legal age as higher or lower than this, and even some who don’t have a legal age at all.
In America for example the legal age is 21 to drink, yet in some states 16 to get married and drive etc. This in the opinion of many seems strange, that someone can be considered an adult in one sense, yet not in another. Also underage drinking is just as abundant under these laws as many other countries with lower legal ages.
The United States in this respect is the least lenient country in the world that allows alcohol to be legally bought. This is to the point of having to buy beer and spirits in separate stores for example, and there are also many dry counties, which don’t sell alcohol at all. The reason for this is thought to be the strong Christian representation in the government and authorities, as well as a history of prohibition movements.
Despite the fact that 21 is the universal legal age for possession of alcohol in the United States, there are numerous bylaws and other loopholes which mean that drinking is still allowed under this age in certain circumstances. These vary in each state, with some prohibiting drinking underage under all circumstances, and others being much more permissive.
In the UK the legal age is 18 to buy alcohol, but 16 to drink with parental permission in your own home, or with a meal. However due to the culture of Britain being much more accepting of drinking than the United States for example, many people will drink much Younger than this. Also the laws regarding underage drinking are a lot different than more strict countries, with the alcohol in question being merely confiscated by police if any underage drinkers are caught.
The majority of first world countries around the world use 18 as a legal age for drinking, which tends top coincide with the legal age for marriage and voting in many places as well. Several of these countries also have laws regarding the type of alcohol consumed. For example beer and low alcohol wines might be 16, whereas spirits and strong wine might be 18.
The system of having one legal age for beer and another for spirits is often used so that teenagers have less chance of being drunk, even though they are consuming alcohol. This is also used to attract tourists to the areas, particularly those who might be too young to drink in their own country. With this in mind, many of the beers etc that are sold at the younger age limit tend to be very low alcohol, to lower rates of drunkenness.
There are a few countries in which alcohol of any kind is completely illegal under all circumstances, mainly due to Muslim law being in control. Also these places tend not to have a separation of church and state, so religious laws are often in place instead of state made laws. Saudi Arabia is probably the most famous of these places, although there are several others in the Middle east as well. However despite alcohol being illegal there, it is still fairly easy for tourists to get their hands on, as well as many of the wealthier locals flouting the law as well.
Some European states have 16 as a legal drinking age, which tends to be linked to their culture of wine drinking with meals. In France for example, even young children might be given a small glass of wine to have with their main meal of the day. However this meal tends to last a few hours and is something that the whole family sits down together for. Children alone would still not be allowed to drink wine whenever they wanted to.
Many African countries don’t tend to have a legal drinking age at all, mainly due to the fact that in a lot of these places alcohol is too expensive for many people to afford anyway, much less children. This trend is followed in many poorer countries, where only people who are working usually have any chance of getting their hands on alcohol, even if they did want to buy some.
China too has no legal drinking age at the moment, although it has been suggested that they would need to set one as they make inroads to becoming a political force in the world. With this in mind sooner or later China probably will have a legal drinking age, as well as the fact that not having one is seen by many as a sign of a lawless state.