Legal guide to age thresholds for children and young people

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The Bill of Rights and the Children’s Act define a ‘child’ as a person under the age of 18 years. This means that all people under the age of 18 years are entitled to the protection guaranteed by section 28 of the Bill of Rights and the provisions of the Children’s Act.

The age of majority, 18, sets the age at which a child becomes a ‘major’ (this is a legal term for ‘adult’). A child who reaches the age of majority is able to conclude valid contracts without parental assistance (e.g., marriage and employment contracts).

Age at which a child can open and operate a bank account.

A 16-year-old child can be a depositor at a bank where the deed of establishment or statutes of the bank make provision for it. He/she can execute the necessary documents, cede, pledge, borrow against and deal with his/her deposit. They can also enjoy all the privileges and be liable for all the obligations and conditions applicable to depositors: as if they were a major (adult).

Age at which a child can make his/her own valid will = 16.

Age at which a child may be employed to perform work

No-one may employ a child under the age of 15 or under the minimum school-leaving age. In terms of the Schools Act, the minimum school-leaving age is the last school day of the year the child turns 15 or the age at the end of the ninth grade, whichever comes first.

Regulations to the BCE Act govern the conditions under which children aged 15 to 18 may be employed. The regulations define a ‘child worker’ as “any child who is employed by or works for an employer and who receives, or is entitled to receive, remuneration, or who works under the direction or supervision of an employer or any other person.”

These regulations prohibit or place conditions on the work that may be required, expected, or permitted to be performed by a child worker:

  • A child worker may not be permitted or required to do any work that requires respiratory protection to be worn.
  • A child is only allowed to work in elevated positions (work at a height of more than 2 metres from the floor or ground) in certain circumstances.
  • A child worker can only be required or permitted to do work that requires lifting heavy weights in certain circumstances.
  • A child worker can only be required or permitted to work in cold, hot, or noisy environments in certain circumstances.
  • A child worker may only be required or permitted to use power tools or cutting or grinding equipment in certain circumstances.

Age at which a person can apply for a firearm license and legally possess a firearm.

 = 21, Under 21 if compelling reasons exist.


Produced by Prinslean Mahery and Paula Proudlock (Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town).

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 adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE). 

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