Getting into a contract can be such a basic and common right, we don’t even realise we’re doing it. Contracts happen in our daily lives and it includes things such as buying a flight ticket. But the thing is, contracts aren’t just valid for everyone. In fact, the general rule for contracts is that you have to be 18 and over, as contracts entered into by children aren’t actually valid.
Under Section 2 of the Age of Majority Act 1971, if you’re below 18 years old, you are still considered a minor in Malaysia, thus (most) contracts signed by you are invalid. You would first have to reach the ‘age of majority’—which is 18 years old in Malaysia—in order to sign a contract. This is included in Section 11 of the Contracts Act 1950.
However, despite the laws mentioned above, there are actually 5 exceptions where a minor can get into contracts that would be valid and binding on them. These exceptions are…
1. Marriage contracts
Minors are actually allowed to get married in Malaysia. This might not be that surprising for some of you, as we’ve seen this thing happen before. However, the law for that to happen isn’t that straightforward, as you will see.
Under Section 10 of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976, the minimum age for a man and woman to get married in Malaysia is actually 18 years old. However, if a female minor has reached the age of 16 years and wishes to get married, she must first get a special marriage license granted by the Chief Minister.
However, while the minimum age to get married is 18 years, under Section 12 of the Law Reform Act, if both the man and woman are below the age of 21, they have to first obtain the consent in writing of their fathers. However, this law applies to non-Muslims only.
For Muslim marriages, it depends on each state’s Islamic Family Law Enactment—more commonly known as the Syariah law. So for example, in the Federal Territories, under the Islamic Family law (Federal territory) Act 1984 (IFLA 1984), the male must be at least 18 years old, while the female must be at least 16 years old if they want to get married. If they are below the minimum age but still want to get married, they must get consent in writing from a Syariah judge as provided under Section 8 of the IFLA 1984.
So marriage contracts are in fact, binding on minors in Malaysia. Even promises to marry that have been made by the minor or by their parents on their behalf are valid as well. And under Section 4(a) of the Age of Majority Act 1971, nothing in this Act can effect the capacity of any person to act in the following matters, namely marriage, divorce, dowry and adoption. This means that even if you are a minor, you can still get married or divorced, as long as you’ve followed the rules— which is getting permission from the Chief Minister or a Syariah judge.
[READ MORE: Is child marriage ACTUALLY legal in Malaysia?]
2. Employment contracts
Minors can enter into employment contracts too. This is allowed and regulated under the Children and Young Persons (Employment) Act 1966 which states that any child or young person may enter into a contract of service and be employed. Though, they can’t be employers. The new Children and Young Persons (Employment)(Amendment) Act 2019 has also set a minimum age of 13 years old provided only light work is involved as seen under Section 2(2A) of the Act.
But while this may seem to open up doors for some employers to take advantage of minors as cheap labour, minors are protected at the same time. This is because while minors are allowed to be employed, they cannot be sued for any damages or indemnity for breach of their employment contract as stated under Section 13 of the Children and Young Persons (Employment) Act 1966.
3. Scholarship agreements
Under Section 4(a) of the Contract (Amendment) Act 1976, no scholarship agreements shall be invalidated on the ground that the scholar entering into such agreement is not of the age of majority. This means that as a minor, you can enter scholarship agreements to further your studies. While most scholarships are offered based on your SPM results, there are quite a number of scholarships that are offered based on UPSR or
PMR PT3 results as well. For example, international school scholarships.
Most scholarship agreements would have terms to be fulfilled such as maintaining certain grades and avoiding any misconduct. If these terms are not fulfilled, it could be seen as a breach of agreement or contract. So a minor can be held liable for breach of this contract for failing to fulfil the terms and can even be sued.
4. Contracts for insurance policies
Minors are able to enter into insurance contracts such as life insurance policies. Under the Insurance Act 1996, if you are above 10 years old you would be able to own an insurance policy. BUT if you are below 16 years of age, you would require written consent from your parents to own the policy. Minors are allowed to enter insurance contracts because it’s considered in their best interests to protect him/herself.
5. Contracts for necessaries
Under Section 69 of the Contracts Act 1950, a person who has supplied necessaries to a minor is allowed to be reimbursed by the minor. Necessaries basically means that goods that are necessary to the minor’s current condition in life. So if he’s hungry and he’s buying food from you, that food is considered necessary. But this doesn’t just affect basic human functions like hunger.
To put it into perspective, let’s say you’re a minor and you ordered 12 dresses online. You opted for COD (cash on delivery) and you get excited waiting for your dresses to arrive. However when they do arrive, you refuse to pay and the online shopping site sues you to try to recover the money. The court would actually look at whether you have enough clothes in the first place. So if the court feels that there was no need for you to have extra clothing and that you already had enough clothes, you won’t be held liable. So if the goods that were sold to the minor were necessary to him or her at that time, then only would the contract be valid.
While these exceptions seem to put children at risk of being sued for any breach of contract, it also plays a more beneficial role to them. This allows them the ability to purchase insurance policies and enter into scholarship agreements. At the same time, it also protects the person contracting with the child should the child breach any terms of the contract, so at least there’s a fair balance there.