National

Age of adulthood targeted for revision next year

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

The government is considering revising the Civil Code to lower the age of majority from 20 to 18, which would allow some of today’s teens to make their own legal decisions without parental consent, government sources said Thursday.

The revision would affect about 200 laws that have provisions concerning legal restrictions for minors, a senior Justice Ministry official said.

The government plans to submit a bill to revise the Civil Code and 20 to 30 of the 200 laws during an ordinary Diet session that opens in January, the official told The Japan Times.

Laws that could be revised include the Nationality Law, which obliges a child born to a Japanese national and foreign spouse to declare citizenship under one of the countries before the age of 22.

If endorsed by the Diet, the Nationality Law would be revised to let those aged 18 and 19 choose nationality without parental consent and would lower the deadline from age 22 to 20, the official said.

Later in the day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga confirmed that the government was exploring lowering the age of majority.

If the government submits a bill to do so, it will try to enact it by the end of the ordinary Diet session, Suga said at a regular news briefing. The Diet usually closes in mid-June.

In a historic step last year, the Diet revised the election law to lower the voting age to 18 from 20 to let younger generations take part in national elections for the first time. This allowed 18- and 19-year-olds to cast ballots in the Upper House election on July 10.

“We will aim to enact such a bill if it is submitted to the Diet,” Suga said.

Explaining the move, Suga said that in 2009 the Legislative Council, which comes under the Justice Ministry, suggested the government should likewise lower the age of majority if it decided to lower the voting age.

Revising the legal definition of minor could have wide repercussions.

For example, under current laws, parents can unconditionally cancel contracts concluded by their children if they are minors. These include contracts for purchasing expensive computers or applying for credit cards.

Under the planned revision of the Civil Code, that parental right would no longer apply to children who are 18 or 19.

As for other privileges associated with adulthood, only those aged 20 or older currently have the legal right to smoke and drink alcohol. But this age restriction is likely to remain since no consensus on changing it has been reached yet among lawmakers, the ministry official said.

On marriage, the Civil Code says that males aged 18 or 19 and females between 16 and 19 can marry if their parents consent. In 1996, the Legislative Council recommended that the age be changed to 18 for both genders.

The government has not yet decided whether this issue should be included in the current round of Civil Code revisions, the ministry official said.