On Universal Children’s Day on 20 November, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) shines a light on differences in legal minimum ages to help the EU and its Member States eliminate inconsistencies, protection gaps and seemingly arbitrary restrictions resulting from different age thresholds.
Legal minimum ages define when and how children are involved in or have influence over procedures affecting their lives. They also determine whether and under which conditions children may exercise certain rights independently and without the authorisation of their parents. As children mature at different ages, setting age limits in law or in practice may restrict some of their rights while not offering enough protection in others.
Some limitations lack sound criteria, and therefore seem to be solely based on adults’ assumptions and preconceived ideas about childhood. Moreover, age thresholds are sometimes confusing. For instance, in some countries the age for sexual consent is higher than the minimum age to marry.
Research from FRA and others has pointed to inconsistences across Member States, and even within national jurisdictions, when it comes to areas like child protection, child-friendly justice and migrant children in detention.
To highlight these differences the Agency mapped the national legal age requirements in various areas across the EU. The first set of findings is now available. They cover:
The findings underline the wide differences in the limits set by Member States across different areas. They point to the need to improve the way age limits are set to achieve consistency and better balance the need to protect children with the need to empower children.
Further findings will be released in 2018. They will cover migration and asylum, access to justice, social and economic rights, the digital world and LGBTI issues.