Can a child or a minor enter into a contract?
This article explains the critical legal matters that organisations and individuals should be aware of when entering into a contract with a minor. It discusses the issues that can arise as well as different ways of dealing with those issues.
A minor is someone under the age of 18 years according to a definition under the Births and Deaths Registration Amendment Act (No 1 of 2002). This is called the age of majority. The age of majority was reduced from 21 to 18 years by this Act.
More recently however, the law now uses the word “child” to refer to an under age person previously referred to as a minor. This is confusing because in common language we would probably not refer to a sixteen or seventeen year old as a child. We continue to use the word “minor”.
Everyone knows that to form a legally binding contract there must be an offer, acceptance and an intention to create a legally binding contract.
The law presumes that some people do not have the power to make contracts. These people are:
- children under 7 years
- people who are mentally insane
- people who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol
A minor can therefore, enter into a contract. However, the law also assumes that a minor cannot understand the implications of a contract. So, whatever caveat is drafted into the contract, he or she will remain protected to the disadvantage of the other party.
Further, a contract with a minor is voidable. That means he or she is able to cancel any contract at any time before reaching the age of 18 and for a reasonable period after that time. There is no requirement for him or her to have a justifiable reason for this, it can be done on a whim or where it may be advantageous to the child to do so.
Problems arise unexpectedly. It is obvious that a child cannot get a credit card in his own name, but he could borrow or steal one. You may be unable to enforce a contract on a borrowed card unless you could prove that it was a term of the agreement that the person was over 18 years old. The sale of goods on a stolen card would be void from the outset.
Fortunately, the situation is not quite so clear-cut for all contracts with children. There is one key exception to the general position outlined above and this relates to contracts of service, apprenticeship and education with children. The rationale behind this exception is to give organisations certainty when entering into a contract with a child that enables him to earn his living or to start to do so.
Such a contract is likely to be binding on a child provided it is beneficial to him. This exception will always be subject to the child being at least old enough to understand the nature of the contract he is entering into - if he is not, the contract will fall outside this exception and be voidable in line with the general position.
A court would not "force" any person (whether it be an adult or minor) to carry out a contract for personal services because as a matter of public policy parties should not be forced to continue in a personal relationship against their will. Therefore the only remedy is of damages arising from breach of contract.
First, obtain a personal guarantee from a parent. This sounds perfect, but it is not. There have been cases in court where the judge has said that a parent cannot be held responsible automatically for the contract of a minor because that defeats the fundamental proposition that a minor cannot be bound.
However, it is our humble opinion that a modern judgement would not follow that and the parent would be bound - at least if the contract was reasonable in the round.
Better, is for the parent to enter into the contract in his own name. If a parent buys trainers from you, then what he does with them after that is up to him.
Many websites discourage use by children at the start of their T&C. That is also a good way to make clear that you will not sell to minors.
Please note that the information provided on this page:
- Does not provide a complete or authoritative statement of the law;
- Does not constitute legal advice by Net Lawman;
- Does not create a contractual relationship;
- Does not form part of any other advice, whether paid or free.
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