GABORONE - A person who attains the age of 18 will now assume full legal capacity following Parliament's amendment of the Interpretation Act Tuesday.
Thus, 18 year olds, who will now be considered to have attained the age of maturity and on the threshold of adulthood when President Lt. Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama assents to the act, can be without assistance of their guardians enter into legally binding contracts as well as sue and be sued in their own name.
Initially the age of maturity was 21 years which was not in alignment with a substantial number of existing legislation that recognised 18 year olds as mature people. However, the aim of the new Act will not have an effect on existing legislation unless the ministry whose portfolio the said legislation falls under considers it necessary that such legislation be amended as a consequence of reducing the age of maturity from 21 to 18 years.
The reason being that different legislation have set different ages (above maturity, and below maturity) for the protection or exercise of certain rights set out under certain legislation such as that subjects persons who have attained the age of maturity to exercise certain rights.
For instance, the Constitution of Botswana provides that to qualify for membership of Ntlo ya Dikgosi, one must have attained the age of 21 years while the Citizenship Act disallows dual citizenship upon attainment of 21 years.
Other legislation which affords persons below the age of maturity certain protection, rights or privileges is the National Registration Act which allows a 16-year-old to apply for national registration; Penal Code which provides that a person under the age lacks criminal responsibility; Lotteries and Betting Act which prohibits the sale of a lottery ticket to a person under 16 years while the Wills Act allows a person of the age of 16 or more to make a will.
Also, the Constitution of Botswana provides that to qualify for election as a President, a person must have attained 30 years of age, the Penal Code provides that no sentence of corporal punishment shall be passed upon a male person above 40 years of age; Adoption of Children Act provides that no person under the age of 25 shall adopt any child while the Road Traffic Act provides for a minimum age of 25 years as requirement to acquire a license for a train, bus or school bus. Debating the bill before it was passed into law, Moshupa MP, Mr Mokgweetsi Masisi, supported it, saying it aligned the statute to those of other nations that had seen the benefit of doing so as well as a number of international conventions.
Historical evidence, he said, suggested that parents treated their children as minors even after they had attained the age of maturity. He noted, therefore, that the bill proposed to define adulthood from 18 years thus bestowed a whole lot of responsibility on those immediately above the age of 18 "which is something completely new."
Besides, he urged MPs not to consider the legislation as a panacea to all the problems, saying "if anything, it requires us to be even more forthright in addressing the problems that this will bring on its own, for you are going to continue getting your electorate coming to you to plead and requesting that you intervene on their behalf."
He also encouraged MPs to enlighten the electorate on the bill. Also, he urged them to accept and recognise the historical significance of the bill as it would unlock opportunities to many young people in terms of accessing economic development, mobility and engaging in ways different from those that they had been engaging in before.
Mr Masisi also noted that the bill would also promote genuine inclusivity as well as broaden it. Thus, it was no accident that the bill received support from all MPs.
He also urged members to unreservedly support and examine any other bills that would come before parliament.
Okavango MP, Mr Bagalatea Arone, also supported the bill and urged the relevant ministry to ascertain that it was effected. BOPA