You and Your Rights: Legal Rights of Teenagers

Summary

  • It is legal for a child of 14 to consent to his or her own medical treatment
  • A child can be employed and may choose to leave school at the age of 15 
  • Once a child is 16, he or she can maintain a bank account and consent to sex
  • The parents of an unmarried minor who has a child, may become legal guardians of that child
  • A minor may consent to HIV testing at the age of 12 

 

Your Rights

The age of majority in South Africa is 18 years of age. Before you turn 18 you are still considered a child. However, a child is able to legally perform certain acts and enter into certain agreements before he or she becomes an adult at the age of 18 years.

What can a child do once they reach the age of 16?

For example if a child reaches the age of 16, the law says that he or she:

  • Can open and operate a bank account and be liable for all the obligations and conditions applicable to adult clients;
  • Can make a valid will;
  • Can buy and sell cigarettes or any other tobacco products;
  • Can legally drive a motorcycle;
  • Can register as a voter but can only actually vote when 18;
  • Can be served papers by the court of law;
  • Can consent to sex;
  • Can agree to donate his/her own body organs (after death);
  • Can consent to being circumcised;
  • Can consent to virginity testing;
  • Can apply for a Child Support Grant in his/her own name for his/her own child or younger siblings if the primary caregiver;
  • Can be considered the head of a household and bear rights and responsibilities as a caregiver;
  • And can work underground in a mine as part of a vocational training programme (but may NOT be employed at an underground mine until the age of 18).

What can a child do once they reach the age of 15?

When a child reaches the age of 15, the law says that he or she:

  • Can be employed;
  • Can choose to leave school;
  • Can enter into a civil law marriage with the consent of parents or guardians. If under the age of 15, a child needs the consent of the Minister of Home Affairs as well.

What can a child do once they reach the age of 14?

Once a child reaches the age of 14, the law says that he or she:

  • Can be a witness to someone else’s will;
  • Can consent to his/her own medical treatment;
  • Can consent to donating blood;
  • Is considered to have criminal capacity and he/she can be tried and prosecuted.     

What happens if a minor has a baby?

  • A minor who is pregnant (or recently gave birth) can continue to depend on her parents or legal guardians for financial support;
  • If the minor is not married, her parents or guardians can become the legal guardians of the baby and claim parental responsibilities. But only the High Court can grant full guardianship and only if they believe it is in the best interest of the child.  
  • If the minor is legally married at the time of the baby’s birth, then they have full parental rights and responsibilities;
  • A minor may terminate their own pregnancy at any age.

HIV Testing/Contraceptives

Although the legal age of sexual consent is 16, minors above the age of 12 have the right to access contraceptives and undergo HIV testing. At age 12, a child may also consent to disclose his or her HIV status.