You and Your Rights: Turning 18
- Once a minor reaches the age of majority, he or she can make legally binding decisions independently
- You must be 21, three years past the age of majority, to apply for a firearm
- When a minor is emancipated, his or her finances become inaccessible to his or her former guardians
- An individual of 18 years may apply for a passport or other travel documents
- Full legal responsibility means that once a citizen turns 18, he or she may be sued in a court of law
What are your rights and responsibilities when you turn 18?
The age of majority in South Africa is 18 years of age.
What does this mean?
The age of majority is the threshold of adulthood and is recognized or declared in law. It is the time when a “minor” ceases to legally be considered a child and assumes control over their persons, actions, and decisions, thereby terminating the legal control and legal responsibilities of their parents or guardian over and for them. Once a minor reaches the age of 18, or the “age of majority”, they have all the rights and responsibilities of an adult.
What can a child do once they reach the age of 18?
When a child reaches the age of 18 years, he or she becomes legally independent and is free to make legally binding decisions without their parents’ or guardians’ permission.
For example, the law says that once a child reaches the age of 18:
- They have “full legal capacity” – this means that they can sue and be sued in a court of law and litigate under their own name;
- They can enter into a binding contract without the knowledge or consent of a parent or guardian;
- They can buy and own property;
- They can apply for, or be offered, discount or credit cards
- They can claim any inherited funds (if monies have been paid into the Master of the High Court Guardians Fund) and can claim any inherited fixed property;
- They can consent to the adoption of their own child;
- They can choose to marry without their parents’ or guardians’ consent;
- They can leave home and establish a home of their own;
- They can apply for a license to drive a car on their own;
- They can take out an insurance policy in their own name;
- They can apply for a passport or travel document;
- They can change their name or surname without parental consent;
- They can do any type of job including serving in the National Defence Force;
- They can apply to Home Affairs to have their gender description (male or female) changed on the birth register.
In terms of social assistance, the law says that once a child reaches 18, he or she:
- Can apply for social grants and/or housing subsidies;
- Can apply for a Disability Grant;
- Can apply for a Foster Child Grant in his/her own name if looking after siblings or other children.
In terms of healthcare, the law says that once a child reaches 18, he or she:
- Can consent to surgical operations without parental consent;
- Can consent to being sterilized;
- Can consent to the use and/or donation of his/ her own organs while alive.
In terms of being a consumer, the law says that once a child reaches 18, he or she:
- Can play in lotteries and take part in legal gambling games;
- Can purchase legal pornography and/or sexually explicit material;
- Can buy alcohol;
- Can buy online cards (only online debit-cards can be offered to children and adolescents under the age of 18);
When does the previous age of majority of 21 years apply?
When a person reaches the age of 18 years, he or she becomes legally independent and is free to make legally binding decisions without their parents or guardians permission.
However, there are areas of the law which require that a person reaches the age of 21 years. These legal areas will, with time, align with the Children’s Act and the new age of majority of 18 years. For example, the law says that once a person reaches the age of 21, he/she is able to apply for a fire arm.
Similarly, to receive a benefit payment, the rules of a Pension or Provident Fund normally stipulate the age at which a benefit is to be paid to a dependant child. This is usually at the age of 21, but can be challenged in terms of the Children’s Act. Should the benefit be paid into a Guardian Fund as an inheritance it will be available at the age of 18, which is the new age of majority.
Can a minor be emancipated or freed from parental control?
“Emancipation of a minor” generally refers to the process of freeing a minor under the age of 18 from parental control. It means that the parent is no longer legally responsible for the acts of the child and that the court considers the minor an adult.
A court order is necessary to become legally emancipated. An emancipated minor is then responsible for him or herself and cannot demand financial assistance from parents. Emancipation may also refer to freeing the earnings/ income of a child from the control of a parent.
Whether the court will grant an order for emancipation will be determined by a number of factors including but not limited to: whether the minor resides on his or her own, whether the minor is financially independent, the age of the minor, whether the minor has his or her own employment or whether the minor needs the assistance of his parents to complete his or her affairs.
The onus rests upon the minor to prove that he or she may be emancipated.