States themselves define and approve age restrictions, stipulating a legal minimum age for actions like getting married, voting or working. Age restrictions determine whether a child is old enough to take his or her own decisions or continues to require parental consent. These age restrictions ignore the specific, individual development paths of children, set inflexible limits and can introduce or maintain unnecessary aspects of dependency in adult-child relationships.
When imposing age restrictions through national legislation, states should be guided by the requirements and recommendations of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC) and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, respectively. Article 12 of the UN CRC assures every child the right to be heard and have his or her views taken into account (participation). It calls on children to form their own views and express those views freely in all matters affecting them. Children’s views must be given due weight in accordance with age and maturity of the child in question. This right extends over all judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child.
General Comment No. 12 of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child elucidates the meaning of article 12 of the UN CRC further, making it clear that children have a right to have an influence on their own lives. The Convention recognises the child as the legal subject of rights. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child therefore emphasises in its General Comment that article 12 does not establish an age requirement for children’s right to be heard and have their views taken into account, advising states parties to avoid introducing, in legislation or in practice, age restrictions that restrict children’s right to be heard in all matters affecting them.
One finds other references to this in General Comment No. 7, on implementing child rights in early childhood, and No. 20, on the implementation of the rights of the child during adolescence.
The UN CRC calls for the definition of minimum ages in only three areas: admission to employment, criminal responsibility and recruitment to the armed forces. The revised minimum age in this last respect is eighteen.
Since 2011, German Institute for Human Rights has, with its cooperation partner, the European Forum for Migration Studies (efms), been the German focal point for reporting to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) in Vienna within the Agency’s FRANET research network.
In 2016, the National CRC Monitoring Mechanism contributed to the FRA report on minimum age requirements.
The results from this background research for FRA were also channelled into the National CRC Monitoring Mechanism’s second consultation, in 2016, which focussed on ways for children to lodge complaints, given that German law, like the laws of many other countries, contains age restrictions that make it more difficult for children and adolescents to access complaints procedures.