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  • Advice

    Definitions of a child

    The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) defines a child as anyone under 18 unless, "under the law applicable to the child, a majority is attained earlier".



    In England, a child is defined as anyone under the age of 18. The child protection guidance however dictates that even if a child is 16 with all the associated freedoms, they are granted the same protection and entitlements as any other adult. 


    Northern Ireland

    In Northern Ireland, The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 defines a 'child' as a person under 18.



    In Scotland, a child legally becomes an adult when they turn 16. However, statutory guidance that supports the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 includes all children and young people up to 18. Therefore, where concerns are raised about a 16- or 17-year-old, agencies will need to consider which legislation or guidance is appropriate to follow, given the age and situation of the young person at risk. Paragraph 21 of the National guidance for child protection in Scotland explains how professionals should protect young people from harm in different circumstances (Scottish Government, 2014).



    Section 3 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 states that a child is a person who is under 18.


    Children's rights

    Children's rights are protected by law internationally and within the UK.

    UK law aims to protect the right of children and ensures (but is not limited to) the following: 

    • Allowing children's voices to be heard;
    • Allowing access to education;
    • Providing a stable and safe environment at home and school; and
    • Outlining safety measures if a child decides to work.

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