Majority age, Our Laws and Ambiguities

By Khadiza Akther Shuki

In Bangladesh, there are various ambiguities in different laws about the age of “majority”. According to Black’s law dictionary, majority age means full age; the age at which, by law, a person is entitled to the management of his own affairs and to the enjoyment of civic rights; the opposite of minority. Also, the status of a person who is a major in age.

Article 1 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a ‘child’ as an individual who has not attained the age of 18 years. Most of the countries in the world fixed the age of majority at 18 years. In Bangladesh, the majority age is also determined at 18 years. But the vagueness arises when different Bangladeshi laws define the majority age of a ‘child’ and ‘minor’ differently. For instance, section 4 of the Children Act, 2013 denotes that “all persons up to the age of 18 (eighteen) years shall be deemed to be children.” Although section 11 of the Contract Act, 1872 mentioned that the person to enter into a contract must be of the age of majority, it does not prescribe the age of majority. The age of the majority has been determined by the Majority Act, 1875. According to section 3 of the Majority Act, 1875, the age of majority is 18 years unless the superintendence of his property has been assumed by the court of Wards in which case it is 21 years.

Similarly, Child Marriage Restraint Act, 2017 adds another tenet to the confusion. As per section 2(1) of the Act “Minor” means a man who has not completed 21 years and correspondingly, a woman who has not completed 18 (eighteen) years. In this particular section, two majority ages have been prescribed for men and women. This anomaly could be eliminated by ascertaining one particular majority age for both men and women. It can be affixed to 18. Then it will be more justifiable and gender neutral.

In terms of penal legislation, section 2(k) of the “Nari-o-Shishu Nirjaton Daman Ain, 2000”-“child” means any person not more than sixteen years of age.” In addition, section 375 of Penal Code 1860 includes sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under 13 years of age, is not rape. The same enigma again in the scenario where the majority age of a child is determined differently. But these two laws are very important for our society to prevent crime against children. Actually, it should have a specific definition of ‘majority age’ so that no one can get any kind of chance to raise any doubt regarding this sensitive issue. However, still delusion remains regarding the majority age of a child and it has the chance to create barriers in the way of getting proper justice.

There is another important legislation which is Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006. This law also defines the majority age of a child differently. As per section 2 of the Labour Act, 2006, “Adolescent” means a person who has attained the age of fourteen years but has not attained the age of eighteen years. According to section 2(36) “adult” means a person who has attained the age of eighteen years.” The international standard can be followed in this regard. Such as Article 3 of Minimum Age Convention, 1973 illustrates the minimum age for admission to any type of employment or work which by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out is likely to jeopardize the health, safety, or morals of young persons shall not be less than 18 years. It also mentioned that notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 1 of this Article, national laws or regulations or the competent authority may, after consultation with the organizations of employers and workers concerned, where such exist, authorize employment or work as from the age of 16 years on condition that the health, safety, and morals of the young persons concerned are fully protected and that the young persons have received adequate specific instruction or vocational training in the relevant branch of activity.” On the other hand, Article 2 of the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 asserts that the term “child” shall apply to all persons under the age of 18.

Additionally, so many laws are available where different majority age is suggested and it creates perplexities among the common people. Sometimes, it also lays hurdles in the path of getting proper justice. Laws are enacted for control and regulation. So, it should be enacted in a way through which people can get clear and specific knowledge about the provisions of law. If laws are worded with ambiguous and improper explanation, the public at large tend to face the adverse consequences arising out of it. Hence, government efforts should be advanced to bring uniformity in laws regarding the majority age of a child so that people have a specific and crystal-clear idea. Over and above, there should be some consistency and yardsticks in determining the age of the majority so that the rights of the children can be protected in due course.

Khadiza Akther Shuki is a student of the LLB program at Department of Law and Human Rights, University of Asia Pacific.