Age construct in our legal reasoning (2)


In part 1 of this series, I discussed two (2) age categorisation in the legal reasoning of Ghana as sexual age and marital age. The fact that age sixteen (16) can involve in sex but not lawfully permissible to marry-until eighteen (18) years old.

In this final part, I will enumerate on the socio-cultural, economic, educational and political undertones of the final two (2) age concepts namely; voting age and contractual age as practiced in Ghana.

  1. Voting Age

This is referred to as universal adult suffrage. This is the age at which countries in the world vote for national leadership. The reason for age is not exactly known to me now. I assume at that age the individual is matured enough to make a good decision as to who should lead them in national affairs.

It is amazing how lawfully permissible sexual age is sixteen (16) but yet at that age, they are not considered matured to vote in national elections. Also, considering that at age eighteen (18) some are still in secondary school, does that not make them capable to be responsible enough to make the right national leadership decision? How about those at eighteen (18) that are in the university? Does that make them more matured?

The argument is even worse when we consider the fact that illiteracy rate is still high in Ghana and therefore at age eighteen (18) there are many who still do not have formal education and are therefore not able to make well informed national decisions. Is maturity for voting derived merely from age or one’s mental maturity to decisively make a decision of who is qualified to lead the nation?

Another plausible argument is the fact that a twenty-one (21) year old can be a member of parliament but the age for the presidency is a minimum of forty (40) years old. What goes into the reasoning that a twenty-one (21) year old can be a member of parliament but not qualified age-wise to be a president? It is trite knowledge that maturity is not a prerogative of age but rather a synthesis of experience, performance and potential good works.

Particularly in Africa where governance is extremely difficult due to the non-strict adherence of administrative principles, and even in some cases where institutions of governance are not in existence and when they are, they are the puppet of the political masters, is it not a good reason to have young energetic people in public office as opposed to the older entrants? Again using education as one of the added advantages for public office, there is no justification that the older are more educated and smarter than the younger.

Interestingly, twenty-one (21) years old is the contractual age and therefore it is assumed that at that age one should be fully independent in thought and actions including being able to become the president of a country. If so, why should there be the separation of the parliamentary age and presidential age?

Is it not contradictory that a twenty (21) year old can be a member of parliament and a minister but age-wise does not qualify to become a president? Also, is it not the case that a twenty-one (21) year old who is a member of parliament and a minister has more technical skills of the nuance of governance than a forty (40) year old that has not held any political office and becomes a president or vice president?

  1. Contractual Age

Contractual age is the age at which one could enter into a legitimate contract. This means that any person or person that enter into a contract below the age of twenty-one (21) does not qualify and therefore that contract cannot be enforceable in a competent court of jurisdiction. But there seems to be a distinction in marital age and contract age though marriage is also a contract.

A person less than twenty-one (21) years old can enter into a contract of work legally guaranteed by the next friend; one who has attained the age of majority (which is a minimum of twenty-one (21) years old). A person less than twenty-one (21) year old is not legally permissible to enter into a contract by him or her.

Why should an eighteen (18) year old enter into a contract of marriage but cannot enter into a contract of business? This means that even an eighteen (18) year old legally married cannot enter into a joint contract of business with the spouse who is older. If they do, it becomes a fraud which vitiates the contract.

A contract that is premised on fraud upon determination becomes null and void. It is presumed as if there was no contract and therefore non-existent in technical terms. Basic knowledge in the contract requires that first an offer must be made. The offer refers to the item offered. Second, there must be an acceptance of the offer. When what is offered is accepted, an agreement is reached therefore a contract is formed primarily. It must be noted that at the level of acceptance, there can be the negotiation of the offer. The offer can be instantly accepted or reviewed or rejected. When a consensus is reached, then it can be said that there is an agreement between the parties.

Though offer and acceptance are the keys and fundamental basis for the formation of a contract, there are other two (2) elements that must not be overlooked else the veracity of the contract can be challenged before a competent court of jurisdiction. These two (2) other elements are consideration and capacity.

Consideration in a contract basically refers to the value placed and paid for the offered item. If the contract terms require for payment of money, in turn, the amount of money agreed by the parties becomes the consideration. If it requires an exchange of goods and/or services, the agreed goods and/or services becomes the consideration. A valid contract is the one that is imbedded in consideration.

Capacity in contract terms means that the parties entering into the contract must be of the minimum contractual age of twenty-one (21) years old and must be clothed with the rightful authority to enter into the specific contract. Again it must be noted that any person who enters into a contract without the capacity to contract nullifies the contract.

Having satisfied the four (4) necessary elements to form a valid contract, contracting parties must also be minded that the validity of a contract is strengthened among the following:

  1. Must be of sound mind
  2. Must not be under duress to sign the contract
  • The contract terms must be in a language common and understood by the parties
  1. The must be a specific performance to effectuate the contract
  2. The contract must be time-bound
  3. A written contract is preferable to an oral contract

In conclusion, age differential in legal reasoning in Ghana has huge contradictions which must be synchronised by the lawmakers to reflect the growing dynamism of a society. The text and the spirit of the law must be sacrosanct to the national aspiration to leapfrog the country’s development. Age is a number but is the rationality just based on numbers or maturity? There is the need for a consultative legal rethinking of age requirements for public performance.

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