The Yomiuri ShimbunThe legal definition of adulthood, which has endured for more than 140 years, since the Meiji era (1868-1912), will change.
A bill to revise the Civil Code, designed to lower the age of adulthood from 20 to 18, has been passed into law at the plenary session of the House of Councillors. It will come into force on April 1, 2022. Thorough preparations are needed so as not to cause confusion.
By bringing forward the timing for young people to be actively involved as adults, society will be invigorated. As the pace of the aging population and the low birthrate is advancing, what the government is aiming at is understandable.
The voting age has already been lowered to 18. Coming of age at 18 is also considered a mainstream concept internationally. In order to help young people realize what being an adult means as early as possible, education to cultivate students’ awareness as eligible voters as well as career education should be improved.
Voices of caution over lowering the adult age also remain strong. According to the latest public opinion survey by The Yomiuri Shimbun, more than half opposed lowering the adult age. In order to help advance people’s understanding, the government is responsible for carefully explaining the significance of lowering the adult age.
In consideration of health risks, the ban on drinking and smoking until the age of 20 remains intact. The ban on publicly controlled gambling — such as horse racing and bicycle racing — by people under 20 has also been kept in place.
As the percentage of students enrolling in universities has reached 50 percent, there are many cases in which their status as high school or college students would continue even though they have come of age. In order to help them acquire senses of independence and responsibility, society as a whole, and not just their families, should support young people who are still in the growth process.
Juvenile Law next focus
One worrisome possibility is young people getting caught up in consumer finance trouble.
Coming of age, they will be able to take out loans and enter into credit card contracts without their parents’ consent. As they will no longer be able to exercise their rights to cancel contracts — permitted for minors — there is a high risk they will become the targets of unscrupulous business practices.
In step with the revision of the Civil Code, the Consumer Contract Law has also been amended. Thanks to this, wrongfully concluded contracts — such as ones that people are forced into through fear — will become revocable.
Steps must be taken to avoid any omissions in the relevant measures.
Large numbers of local governments hold coming-of-age ceremonies in January. With people coming of age at 18, the ceremony will coincide with the entrance examination season.
The government says it will study how the coming-of-age ceremony should be. What to do with the coming-of-age ceremony in fiscal 2022, when young people aged 18, 19 and 20 will be eligible to attend it at once, will be a difficult task.
The issue of what to do with the Juvenile Law will be a focal point in the days ahead. Discussion is under way at the Legislative Council as to whether only those under 18 should be covered by this law.
Should its compatibility with the age of adulthood be considered, it would be reasonable for 18- and 19-year-olds not to be covered by the Juvenile Law. The present Juvenile Law also allows the application of the death penalty to 18- and 19-year-olds.
Something to consider when excluding 18- and 19-year-olds from being covered by the Juvenile Law is securing an opportunity for rehabilitation for young people who have committed minor misdemeanors such as theft. New programs that would help such young people get back on an even keel need to be studied.