Children have to keep track of and obey an array of different minimum age rules as they develop, ranging from the age at which they can marry or vote to whether or not they are criminalised by the justice system. However, simple age-based restrictions are not always the best approach.
These ages, often prohibiting activities adults take for granted, vary from country to country and sometimes across and even within particular jurisdictions.
CRIN believes that there are two justifications for setting minimum ages for specific purposes within the span of childhood.
1. To provide children with a demonstrated need for protection from significant harm.
2. To provide a benchmark for presumed capacity, because without a minimum age the onus is always on the individual child to prove capacity. In some cases a system for determining capacity may be appropriate, but setting a minimum age in addition ensures that after that age children acquire an absolute right.
The pages in this section set out CRIN's approach to minimum ages on different issues, and opportunities for advocacy.
Criteria for setting minimum ages
Is a minimum age needed? Think about:
The purpose (to protect children or ensure their recognition as rights holders)
What other ways exist to achieve that purpose without resorting to age thresholds?
What is the level of risk associated with the activity at hand?
If protection is the objective, how effective is an age limit in achieving that protection? (E.g. much of the research on child labour shows that age thresholds are an ineffective way of achieving that protection because it pushes children into informal, unregulated labour.)
What is the potential for abuse of power by parents or others of not having an age threshold? (E.g. not having a minimum age for the end of compulsory learning could mean parents choose not to send their child to school and use them instead to help with chores.)
Is a capacity assessment an option? If so, how and by whom could such an assessment be administered? (E.g. it would not be appropriate for a person selling cinema tickets to determine capacity.)
What are the adverse consequences of not having a minimum age?
Is it in line with all other rights in the Convention?
What age is most likely to achieve the purpose?
Is this age in the child’s best interests?
Is the minimum age consistent with other laws and policies (or are these wrong)?
How can a minimum age affect decision-making?
Does this age discriminate against children on the ground of age?
Will this age affect certain groups of children more than others?
Read more about issues with minimum age considerations in CRIN's discussion paper Age is Arbitrary: Discussion paper on setting minimum ages.
Minimum ages for some issues are unequivocal, while others are more complex. Here is a list of those covered in the paper.
Issues for which the minimum age should be 18
Issues for which there should be no minimum age
Note: Access to information and advice about any issue should not have an age threshold, though this is covered as an aspect of various issues for the purposes of this paper.
Issues for which capacity and age should be considered