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Age of adulthood expected to be lowered to 18 in April 2022 but concerns remain

This Feb. 21, 2013 file photo shows the Ministry of Justice in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. (Mainichi)

The planned revision of the Civil Code to lower the age of adulthood in Japan from 20 to 18, which was approved by the Cabinet and submitted to the Diet on March 13, will not only change the civil law provision but also affect many people's lives as the age of adulthood is used as the yardstick in many laws.

If passed, the age of adulthood will be lowered to 18 on April 1, 2022, the first such revision since the Meiji period when the Civil Code provision on the country's adulthood was decided.

The voting age in Japan was lowered from 20 to 18 after the Public Offices Election Act was revised in June 2015, and two national elections for each house of the Diet have since been held without notable issues. Regarding lowering the age of adulthood, however, concerns remain that 18- and 19-year-olds will be able to sign loan contracts without their parents' consent, among other economic activities that current 18- and 19-year-olds are not allowed to partake in.

According to the National Consumer Affairs Center (NCAC), the average number of requests for consultation by 18- and 19-year-olds was 4,825 at local consumer centers across Japan in fiscal 2016, but the figure sharply increased to 8,388 among those aged between 20 and 22. An NCAC official says the large difference between the two age groups could be attributed to cases in which malicious business operators target 20-year-olds who do not have the same rights as minors, which allows the latter to cancel a legal act that has been made without the consent of their parents or guardians. If the revised Civil Code provision on the age of adulthood is passed and goes into effect, people will lose that right when they turn 18.

Under such circumstances, the government on March 2 submitted a bill to revise the Consumer Contract Act, which, if passed, will allow consumers to cancel their contracts on shady sales or investments, such as ones that use fear-based marketing concerning job-hunting and the so-called "dating marketing scheme" in which a person's romantic feelings are exploited. The bill assumes that the provision would cover those who "lack experience as an active member of society." In addition, the government plans to set up a review panel to discuss cross-ministerial issues including ways to familiarize the public with the new age for adulthood and measures to support youths becoming independent.

Meanwhile, a total of 22 related laws in addition to the Civil Code and contract law are expected to be revised in accordance with the lowering of the age of adulthood. More than 200 laws set age conditions for youths such as "minors" and "those under the age of 20" in articles and clauses. If a law uses the term "adults," it will refer to those aged 18 and older after the revision unless there is a special provision.

Since the legal age for drinking, smoking and gambling will remain unchanged from 20 years old, the names of related laws and terms used in clauses banning these activities for those aged 19 and younger will be revised from "minors" to "those aged under 20."

The Ministry of Justice says provisions on minors in about 130 laws will not be revised but the age referring to that group of people will change in accordance with the Civil Code revision. The age requirement for certificates and licenses for professions including doctors and certified accountants will be lowered to 18.

The revision is expected to affect laws that use the term "20 years old" as the minimum age requirement, lowering it to 18. For example, under the Passport Act, those aged under 20 can currently only acquire a 5-year passport, but the revision will allow 18- and 19-year-olds to obtain a 10-year passport. Revisions to the special law for people with gender dysphoria are also expected to be made if the revised Civil Code comes into effect. The minimum age requirement for a person to file a petition to change their registered sex with a family court will be lowered from 20 to 18.

With regard to the Juvenile Act, which currently covers those aged 19 and younger, the debate to lower the target age to 17 and under has been taking place after former Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda consulted the matter with the Justice Ministry's Legislative Council in February 2017. If lowered, 18- and 19-year-olds will fall out of the protective measures such as being sent to juvenile training facilities and will be treated the same as an adult in criminal proceedings. While policies to encourage youths around the age of 20 to correct their acts are also being debated, opposition to and calls for caution over the lowering of the age in the juvenile law remain strong among expert groups such as bar associations.

In the bill to revise the Civil Code, a revision to the marriage age for women -- 16 and older under the current law -- is included to raise the minimum age to 18, the same as men. Currently, marriage between minors needs the consent of their parents, but once the revised Civil Code is passed, the regulation will be removed from the law.

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