On April 1, Japan will change its legal definition of an adult from those who are at least 20 years old to those who are 18 years old and older.
The change will upend over 140 years of civil code dating back to the Imperial Meiji period of the late 1800s.
The new code will give those who are 18 and over the rights and responsibilities that come with being a legal adult. They will no longer need parental consent to enter into contracts, such as signing up for credit cards, loans and apartment leases, and will also have the freedom to make life decisions regarding their studies, work, place of living and marriage.
Stricter punishments will also be applied to 18- and 19-year-olds for criminal offenses, as they will no longer be considered minors. News and media outlets will also be able to report their names publicly for offenses. Currently, homicide is the only charge that minors can be criminally prosecuted for.
Laws involving identification cards, passports and jury duty will also be affected by the change, but the rules for alcohol, tobacco and gambling will continue to prohibit participation until age 20, to promote healthy living.
Young Japanese, however, will still be unable to legally drink, smoke or gamble, as the age limit for those activities will remain 20.
The motive behind the change in civil code involves the notion that people should participate in society sooner, against the backdrop of Japan’s low birth rates. The voting age was decreased to 18 in 2016, and the civil code revision seeks to further engagement among 18- and 19-year-olds.
The change also comes amid discussions of whether the Japanese Juvenile Law is too lenient. In 2021, the Juvenile Code was amended to categorize 18- and 19-year-olds as “specified juveniles” who were given harsher punishments for breaking the law than those under 18. The change to the legal age will reinforce and increase these penalties.
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