– Karolien van Wyk

Every teenager knows that as soon as he or she turns 18, they are seen as an adult in the eyes of the law and they no longer have to answer to their parents. (Just kidding, you will always have to explain your actions to your parents.) This is in accordance with the Children’s Act1, as well as the Constitution of South Africa2, but what every teenager might not know is that our law affords them certain choices they can exercise on their own from a younger age.

Below is a list of “adult” decisions that can be taken by minors, even under the age of 18 years:

Wills and estates

A child at the age of 16 can open and operate a bank account and enjoy all the privileges thereof, and be held liable for all the obligations and conditions applicable to it as if they were a major3. Due to the fact that they now have something that can be inherited, a child can also draft his or her own valid will at the age of 164. At the age of 14, a child can be a witness to a will, as long as he or she will not inherit anything in terms thereof5.

Age and employment

It is prohibited to employ a child under the age of 15 years or under the minimum school-leaving age6. The minimum school-leaving age is the last school day of the year the child turns 15, or the age at the end of Grade 9 – whichever comes first.

However, there are regulations which prohibit or place conditions on the type of work performed or the environment in which the work may be performed by minors, for instance a person under the age of 18, but over the age of 16 may only work underground as part of occupational education or training, if not for these purposes, the person must be a major7. At the age of 16 a child may be a reservist for the Fire Brigade, provided that they have their parents’ consent8. A child can be employed in the liquor industry in activities relating to the manufacturing or distribution of liquor from the age of 16, but they may not import, produce or supply it to anyone at that age9.

Medical procedures

The law differentiates between medical treatments and medical operations with regards to the requirements of a child to choose whether they want same or not. In the case of medical treatment a child over the age of 12 may consent to his or her own medical treatment or consent to medical treatment for his or her own child if the minor parent is sufficiently mature and has the mental capacity to understand the benefits, risks and social implications of the treatment10 On the other hand, a child over the age of 12 may also consent to surgical operations to be performed on him- or herself as well as on his or her own child. However, in this case the child / minor parent must always be duly assisted by his or her own parent or guardian.11 A child over the age of 12 years also has the necessary capacity to refuse medical treatment or surgical operations.

Donation of blood and other human tissue

One facet of “adulting” is also caring for fellow human beings. A child at the age of 14 can consent to donating his or her blood or replaceable human tissue12. Should the process involve surgery, the child should also be sufficiently mature to be able to make such a decision and must still be assisted by his or her parent or guardian in making the decision. At the age of 16 a child can agree to donate his or her body or any specific tissue in the event of his or her death13. This age coincides with when a child can make a valid will, so the child can put his or her wishes in a will.

Citizen duties and rights

At the age of 16 one can apply for an identity document and register as a voter14. However, the person’s name will only appear on the voters roll once that person becomes 18 years old15. By becoming a registered voter you start your path towards “adulting” as you can now voice your opinion by casting your vote. Another positive thing about obtaining an identity document, is that the first one is free.

The above list is only a few examples of instances where someone under the age of 18 will have the necessary capacity to make their own choices, and to start “adulting”. Just remember that you should still always listen to your parents, no matter the legal age of majority.

1 38 of 2005, Section 17

2 108 of 1996, Section 28(3)

3 Banks Act 94 of 1990, Section 87(1); Mutual Banks Act 124 of 1993. Section 88(1).

4 Wills Act 7 of 1953, Section 4

5 Wills Act 7 of 1953, Section 1

6 Basic Conditions of Employment Act 75 of 1997, Section 43; South African Schools Act 84 of 1996, Section 3.

7 Mine Health and Safety Act 29 of 1996, Section 85.

8 Regulations in terms of the Fire Brigade Service Act 99 of 1987: Fire Brigade Reserve Force. Government Gazette No 15431, Government Notice No 78, 21 January 1994, Regulation 3(c)

9 Liquor Act 59 of 2003. Sections 8(1) and 10(6), read with section 1

10 Children’s Act 38 of 2005, Section 129(2) and Section 129(4) read with Section 31.

11 Children’s Act 38 of 2005, Section 129(3) and Section 129(5) read with Section 31

12 Human Tissue Act 65 of 1983, Section 18(aa) read with definition of a ‘competent witness’.

13 Human Tissue Act 65 of 1983, Section 2 read with Section 4 of the Wills Act 7 of 1953

14 Identification Act 68 of 1997, Section 15

15 Electoral Act 73 of 1998, Section 6

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice.