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Should Namibia Lower its Age of Majority to 18?

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10 June 2009*
: Currently, Namibia’s age of majority is set at 21, according to a 1972 law called the Age of Majority Act.

But maybe Namibia’s age of majority should be lowered to 18. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare is revising the Child Care and Protection Bill and the public is being invited to give their opinions or raise their concerns before this draft becomes law.

Eightteen is in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. Both agreements define the age of a child as a person below 18. In most other countries, the age of majority is set at 18. That means at 18, young people are entitled to full legal rights and responsibilities.

As it currently stands in Namibia, children under 21 are considered minors. However, they are given certain rights as they mature.

At 16, a person has the legal right to make a will, open and operate a bank account and consent to sexual activity.

At 18, a person has the legal right to: work in any type of job, drive, buy alcohol, gamble, obtain a firearm, vote, give consent to medical treatment or be tried for a crime as an adult and be locked up in prison with adults.

However, a person must be 21 before they can legally enter into contracts without the assistance from their responsible parent or guardian. Minors cannot get married without the consent of their parents or guardians. The government must also give permission to marry if the child is younger than 18. Minors cannot sell or mortgage land. Minors cannot administer money or property which they have inherited.

Essentially what this means is a person can be locked up with adults in prison, buy a gun and vote but not sign a cellphone contract without their parents consent.

We asked a couple of young people what they thought about changing the Age of Majority and about the different ages which are appropriate for young people to do things. Here’s what a few had to say:

Suzandi Shifier, 16, Grade 11, David Bezuidenhout High School

"As a minor, society allows me limited rights only. I’m very happy with the limited rights I have. Imagine if I were to be given all rights. Mentally I wouldn’t be ready to handle all of them. My life would be clashing at all corners. The basic rights that I’m allowed are more than enough to help me develop positively into adulthood.

"The common right wanted by most 16 year olds would be the right to free education. A lot of minors are less fortunate and would really love to help themselves out of their difficult situations. But the fact that they have to pay to go to school discourages them.

"Here are some of my rights as a 16 year old living in Namibia.

"I have a right to make a will and this be accepted by other people. But it will be my responsibility to make the right choices. That’s why I would advise every 16-year-old to consult older people before making decisions. I also have the right to open and operate a bank account and this comes with a lot of responsibility. I also have the right to consent to sexual activity. But even though I have the right to sexual activity, mentally and emotionally I’m not ready for that. With having sex has a lot of consequences.

"Two years from now I will be 18 years. At this age I will be allowed to do more things. For example, I will be allowed to drive a car and drink alcohol. In some countries 16 year olds are allowed to drive and consume alcohol. But with driving a car and drinking alcohol comes a lot of risk. I feel the rights of an 18 year old in Namibia are perfectly suited for their mental capacity.

"However, I am against the lowering of the age of majority from 21 years to 18 years. A person at the age of 18 is still a teenager. They are still very dependent on their parents and guardians. A person at the age of 21 is independent and responsible. Therefore I feel the age of majority should be held at 21 years."

Uys Mushalwa, 18, Jan Jonker Afrikaaner High
"In my view, a child is a young person who is not yet 18 years old. Being 18 means that a person is becoming an adult; there are more responsibilities and they are getting greater. I personally feel that what people are allowed to do at this age is quite fair considering the fact that you can make your choices and know the consequences of them. This makes you responsible for your choices.

"One benefit of being 18 is that you can go out to clubs. I don’t know if this is a good idea as it could distract you from your studies. Being able to get a job or a drivers license are good things because both help you become independent. Some 18 year olds take wrong paths and make wrong choices because of peer pressure. Some follow the rules and some do not.

"There are certain important things that people do not feel ready for even though they are allowed.

"I personally don’t feel ready to vote, just because I don’t know very much about politics.

"I don’t think the age of majority should be brought down to 18 because too many wrong choices would be made and many 18 year olds are not mature enough to be responsible for their actions. But I do agree with having any job and being able to drive at 18."

Franz Saharia, 21, Youth Leader, Physically Active Youth
"When under the age of 18 one is usually considered to be a minor child by law because the law believes that you are young and unable to take on the world. I agree with this.

"I think that 16 and 17 year olds believe that they can look after themselves but in fact they cannot. Life is a mental game and minors are missing an adult mind.

"Minors gradually acquire more and more legal rights as they mature. It seems as though law makers are trying to prepare minors for adulthood.

"A 16 year old can make a will and open a bank account. I agree that these are good steps. A 16 year old can also consent to sexual activity. This one is debatable. Maybe this is allowed because it is too difficult to control though.

"When I was 16, I didn’t know very much. I was still in high school and very dependent on my parents. I lived under my parents rules and I was not allowed to do certain things like coming home late for example. Looking back now, I understand why.

"An 18 year old can obtain a firearm license, buy alcohol, drive, and even vote.

"As I grew older, my parents gave me certain rights and when I turned 18, I became a man of my own.

"The major issue here is the rule though about the age of majority which at the moment is set at 21 in Namibia.

"Personally I think that it should be lowered to age 18 now. There actually is not much difference between what an 18 year old can do and what a 21 year old can do right now. If an 18 year old can buy alcohol, own a gun, gamble and even be locked up in prison with adults why deny them the right to the age of majority?"

Bertha Mauano, 16, Grade 12, David Besuidenhout
"I think people should also be permitted the right to work at any type of job they want at 16. My mom is a domestic worker. I have passed my first term, but do not have any money for Tertiary Education. Imagine the crisis I’m in. I’ve looked for jobs everywhere to support my further education. But they have all turned me down because of my age.

"Our government should also look at the Grade 10 failures and school drop-outs. They should realise that most of them are minors. They roam around the streets because they have nothing to do or don’t have the finances to repeat Grade 10. If 16 year olds were given the right to work in a job, the number of street hangouts would drop."

Emarehi Christy Oherein, 17, Ella Du Plessis
"As a minor, I am not allowed to administer money or property that I have inherited. This means that I’ll be denied access to what is rightfully mine. But what happens when I don’t have a parent or a guardian? What happens when I have siblings to take care of and I don’t have a job? What happens when I’m the sole bread winner in my family and yet I have a trust fund or inheritance that I’m unable to administer. The government should seriously consider lowering the age of majority for minors to administer money or property which they have inherited. The Proposed Child Care & Protection Act should be there to care for me and yet, under current Namibian law, I’m restrained from using money to actually care for myself and my family."

Audrey Innes, 18, Ella Du Plessis
"I don’t think 18 year olds should be locked up in a police cell with adults. If an 18 year old is still considered a minor under the law, how can they be combined in one cell with adults. Adults can take advantage of these minors and rape can take place. Later, it would scar you and could end up making you go mental. I think they should keep minors and adults in different cells."

Alushe Gabriel, 18, Grade 12, Jan Jonker Afrikaaner
"Currently the age at which alcohol can be obtained in Namibia is 18. However, in society, minors have access to alcohol as early as the ages of four and five. Having shebeens and bars in our neighbourhoods is looked upon as being normal. Parents and the community at large turn a blind eye. However, we often don’t know the long term effects that alcohol has on our bodies. Most of us minors know that if you drink in excess you will get drunk, tipsy and have a terrible hangover the next day. But, alcohol is actually a depressant, can be addictive and can have long term health affects. I suggest that our government have an annual Alcohol Awareness campaign to educate 18-year-olds about what drinking alcohol can mean."

Chollastica Goagoses, 18, Jan Jonker Afrikanner
"Tradition is respected by law. But in some traditions, parents decide that girls should get married to older men at a young age. Some are as young as nine when they are considered a woman because they have started menstruating. But a young girl should not get married. Could she really be a wife who can take on the full responsibility of a house? This leads to young girls being abused. Traditional beliefs have to follow the law as well. Traditional parents or a traditional group need to make sure a child is protected until they are a major."

What do you think?
Have your say. Should Namibia lower its age of Majority to 18? Why or Why Not?

Send a sms with your thoughts and comments on this topic to the committee drafting the legislation to 081-424-1591.

Legal Assistance Centre is providing technical assistance to Ministry of Gender Equality & Child Welfare Bill on the revision process. It is supported by UNICEF.

* Articled appeared in The Namibian, June 16, Youth Paper

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