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Is it OK to serve alcohol to under-18s in Finland?

As graduation parties proliferate in Finland this weekend, experts point out that it is legal for an adult to serve alcohol in moderation to minors at home.

nainen pitää skumppalasia
Many Finnish teens are celebrating graduations this weekend. Image: Derrick Frilund / Yle

Finland's generally-strict alcohol laws do allow parents and guardians to serve minors in moderation under some circumstances. However an adult who does so could face a fine if an under-18 drinker becomes drunk and unruly, or if the serving can be seen as "generally reprehensible" in consideration of the minor’s age.

A clause was added to Finland’s Alcohol Act about a decade ago that forbids adults to provide alcohol to those under 18.

“This clause is in no way intended to interfere with a situation where, for instance, a 15, 16, or 17-year-old may drink a glass of wine at a dinner or party at home,” says Ismo Tuominen, a ministerial counsellor at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health who was involved in drafting the legislation.

Boozing in a frozen park unacceptable

Tuominen that serving alcohol to minors at home is left up to the discretion of parents or guardians.

“When you go to extremes, where youngsters are really drunk and parents are disregarding their responsibility for their welfare, then we can talk about punishability – but not in normal situations,” Tuominen tells Yle.

Tuominen says that the law would be applied in a situation where a clearly underage child is being offered strong spirits in a park in sub-zero weather, for instance.

“In other words, the situation could be dangerous in other ways anyway if a minor gets drunk and is unable to look after him or herself,” he points out. “In that kind of case, the clause would be applied, but not if minors are getting drunk amongst themselves,” in which case other regulations apply.

Clause aimed at extreme situations

Tuominen says that the legislation is aimed at extreme situations.

“For instance if an adult serves someone who is significantly below the age of 18 so much alcohol that the youngster ends up with alcohol poisoning and has to have his or her stomach pumped, this would clearly apply,” he says.

Tuominen explains that the wording was added to the law because previously such cases were sometimes treated as assault, which was problematic in legal terms.

“For instance, the minor may have asked for the alcohol, in which case it was a bit unclear and difficult to talk about assault. So we decided it would be easier to have this specific clause,” he says.

“Also, in these cases we’re only talking about fines, rather than prison terms, which are often applied in cases of assault,” he says, stressing that providing alcohol to minors outside a home situation is still forbidden, regardless of whether the adult charges a commission for it.

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