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Diet to take up lowering age of legal adulthood in January session

JIJI

The government will seek to lower the age of adulthood from 20 to 18 during the ordinary Diet session to be convened in January.

If approved, the planned change is expected to take effect in 2022 at the earliest after a transition period.

In 2009, the Legislative Council, an advisory panel to the justice minister, proposed an amendment to the Civil Code to lower the legal age of adulthood to 18 to facilitate greater youth participation in politics and bring Japan in line with other developed countries.

In 2015, the voting age was lowered to 18 under the revised Public Offices Election Law. Teenagers cast ballots in a national election for the first time in the election for the Upper House in July 2016.

The Civil Code amendment was originally set to be submitted to the extraordinary Diet session this autumn, but the dissolution of the Lower House — for the Oct. 22 election —on the opening day of the session dashed the plan. The lowering of the adulthood age is expected to be delayed from the initially envisaged 2021 start.

The planned amendment would allow 18-year-olds and 19-year-olds to marry and sign contracts to buy high-priced goods and services without parental consent.

But the government is expected to maintain the minimum age of 20 for smoking and drinking alcohol to avoid damage to the health of young people and impacts on high school education.

The government also plans to keep the minimum age for publicly managed gambling at 20, chiefly due to strong concern over young people’s vulnerability to gambling addiction.

The advisory panel is discussing, meanwhile, whether the juvenile law should be revised to lower the age of criminal adulthood from 20 to 18.

Some analysts have pointed to problems that could occur when the age of adulthood is cut to 18, including an increase in consumer issues.

At present, there are many reports of shady businesses approaching young people — as soon as they turn 20 — to attempt to sell goods at unfairly high prices. Some fear the lowering of the age of adulthood could increase victims among those aged 18 and 19.

To deal with the issue, an expert panel within the Consumer Commission of the Cabinet Office has proposed amending contract law so that contracts can be canceled if consumers cannot make reasonable judgments.

As early as fiscal 2018, the Consumer Affairs Agency will provide high schools across Japan with instructional materials designed to help students learn about the mechanisms of contracts and payments, including how to deal with billing fraud and the use of credit cards.

A key issue is when the Civil Code amendment should take effect. According to public views solicited by the Justice Ministry, many people oppose Jan. 1 on the grounds that third-year high school students will include both adults and nonadults and therefore supported April 1, when the school year starts.

With both 18-year-olds and 19-year-olds becoming new adults in addition to the existing group of 20-year-olds, various other steps will be needed, including arrangements for coming-of-age ceremonies by local governments.