Japan’s government approves bill that would lower age of adulthood to 18 from 20


The government on Tuesday approved a bill that would lower the age of adulthood to 18 from 20, a move that would enable 18- and 19-year-olds to sign contracts and get married without the consent of their parents.

The planned amendment, which the government aims to implement in April 2022, would change the Civil Code’s definition of an adult for the first time since it was enacted in the late 19th century, in turn affecting many aspects of society, including the acquisition of licenses.

But under the bill, people aged 19 and below would remain prohibited from drinking alcohol, smoking and gambling.

Marriage is now allowed for men aged 18 or older and women aged 16 or older, but those under 20 need parental consent. The revision would lift the legal age of marriage for women to 18, allowing both men and women to wed at that age without parental consent. The government is seeking to unify the legal age of marriage for men and women as there was no rational reason for the difference. Additionally, the number of women getting married at 16 or 17 has fallen.

As 18- and 19-year-olds would also become able independently sign contracts, the government separately submitted to the Diet earlier this month a bill that would revise a law on consumer contracts to bolster measures against malicious business practices targeting young people.

To protect young consumers, who are seen as being more vulnerable to fraud, the bill added clauses allowing contracts signed in “a state of confusion” to be cancelable, such as when salespeople evoke anxiety or exploit romantic feelings in customers.

Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa told a news conference, “(The legal change) holds great significance as it is part of a policy to promote active social participation of young people and raise their awareness” as adults.

Along with redefining the age of adulthood, the Justice Ministry’s Legislative Council is discussing whether the age at which juvenile law applies, currently 19 and under, should be lowered to 17. The law stipulates different treatment for underage criminals or delinquents.

The government will aim to revise the juvenile law once it receives the council’s report.