SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Staying home alone at age 15 when parents are deployed, and buying tobacco in the Navy exchange at age 18: Both are possible under instructions Sasebo officials created recently to explain acceptable behavior for minors of status-of-forces-agreement personnel.

Age 20 remains the minimum legal age for buying and using alcoholic beverages on base and off.

Before the new instruction took effect Oct. 14, said Sasebo’s Staff Judge Advocate Lt. Maribel Mercado, 20 was also the minimum age for buying tobacco at the Navy exchange.

“Previously, it wasn’t allowed for minors 15 and older to stay home alone if parents or sponsors had to leave on temporary duty or deployments,” Mercado explained.

The new rules weren’t prompted by any particular misbehavior by Sasebo juveniles, she said Tuesday afternoon. “The previous instructions left a lot to the discretion of the parents of the minors.

“Also, some parents might not be as responsible as others because they haven’t been provided clear guidelines. This is a large part of what we’re trying to remedy.”

Few of the rules are new, but until now they haven’t been available in a concise, updated and heavily distributed document, Mercado said.

Base officials have launched efforts, which continue this week, to provide the widest possible distribution of “Conduct of Family Members,” the base attorney said.

Mercado said for 15-year-olds to stay home alone if parents or sponsors had to leave on temporary duty or deployments, the adults must “obtain command approval, provide power-of-attorney to an adult nearby willing to supervise, and provide a source for money and other needs.

“Also, because command approval is required, the Security Department will know which minors are alone when parents deploy” or go on temporary duty, Mercado added.

Until now, the NEX could sell tobacco products only to those 20 and older. The age restriction is lowered to 18 in the instruction.

“But they need to remember that off-base Japanese law states you must be 20 to use or buy tobacco. That law applies to everyone, no matter where they bought the items,” Mercado said.

“In addition, the change has no impact on the age requirement to purchase alcoholic beverages; on base and in town the age limit is still 20.”

The new instructions state that breaking rules could result in a minor — or even an entire family — being sent back to the United States.

Such serious offenses could include dealing drugs, repeated underage drinking, violent incidents, stealing and joining or organizing gangs and secret societies.

The Joint Federal Travel Regulations include administrative procedures for the early return of family members.

Consequences also could include removing from Japan SOFA-sponsored civilians who have “become involved in incidents which are embarrassing to the United States government or are prejudicial to good order, morale and discipline within the Sasebo community,” states the Conduct of Family Members regulations.

Minors caught unsupervised on playgrounds, playing music loud enough to disturb neighbors at least 50 feet away or entering prohibited industrial areas without an escort are subject to lesser punishments.

“In cases where early return is not warranted, minors will be subject to the jurisdiction of the Civilian Administrative Forum as outlined … and must comply with all awarded administrative actions. Failure to comply will result in removal,” the instruction states.

Tougher consequences still could result if prohibited behavior resumes, Mercado said, adding that the instructions explain a “lowest common denominator” of acceptable behavior from minors in Sasebo.

“The new instruction, as a response to general confusion, just makes things much clearer for everyone involved. And that includes the minors, their parents and even security personnel. That’s why we’re sending copies to all department heads and beginning to get the word out through all possible avenues,” the SJA said.

Call the SJA office at DSN 252-2103 or 252-3385 for more information about the new instruction.

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