To explore the full set of age-related legislation in the area of Civil & Legal Rights,
you can download the PDF or the Excel version. The full data set for all thematic areas is also available for download.

civil & legal rights

In the domain of civil and legal rights some of the lowest minimum ages can be found, typically in right of the child to be heard in legal decisions affecting the child. This domain also includes highly set age barriers, for example when it comes to capital punishment. Yet, the age at which children are deemed to be criminally responsible, even if only for serious crimes, is well below 18 in all CEE/CIS countries.

Moreover, numerous contradictions exist surrounding the acquisition of legal majority based on capacity versus fixed legal minimum ages in other fields, such as political rights or making independent health choices.

Age of majority

A key minimum age for children and adolescents’ development is the age of majority, which is the age at which one acquires (nearly) all adult rights. Across the CEE/CIS region, the age of majority is universally set at 18 years. However, this general age of majority is subject to a number of exceptions which usually take the form of ‘emancipation’. Emancipation may be partial (e.g. only for legal or economic affairs) or full. Emancipation before the general age of majority nearly always requires the consent of parents, a legal guardian, or court. While emancipation typically means that parents are relieved from some or all of their parental duties towards the child, it does not necessarily mean that an emancipated person under the age of 18 can no longer benefit from child protection by the state (e.g. in the juvenile justice system), yet specific rules differ between countries.

In Turkey, a child from the age of 15 years “may become adult by his/her own will or under parent’s consent subject to court decision.” In Azerbaijan a similar exception exists, however no minimum age has been set.

Nearly all countries in the region allow legal emancipation through (heterosexual) marriage, if marriage takes place before the age of 18. Yet, to marry at a younger age is often dependent on parental, guardian or judicial consent, or capacity assessment (see details in section on marriage).

At 15 years, Belarus has set the youngest age of emancipation through marriage, below the “absolute minimum age” recommended by the CRC and CEDAW Committees. In the Central Asian sub-region, the age is mostly 17 years, and in the Balkans and South Eastern Europe, it is mostly 16 years. Furthermore, six CIS countries - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Uzbekistan – as well as Georgia and Ukraine, allow emancipation through employment providing the adolescent has parental, guardian or judicial approval.

The map shows the number of years by which emancipation can be achieved prior to general majority at the age of 18, either through marriage or employment.


Difference between general age of majority and earlier emancipation through marriage or employment

The views and consent of the child

An area in which children acquire rights at an early age is to be heard in cases affecting them. Article 8 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child mandates States to “respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.” Across the CEE/CIS, the age at which a child’s consent is required for adoption, foster care, change of name or modification of family relations, is most frequently set at 10 years.

Two countries, Turkey and Ukraine, have set no minimum age and instead emphasise the capacity of the child as a guiding criteria. This is a positive area, where children have the right to have their opinions heard and respected in decisions that affect their lives. This stands in contrast to other fields, particularly health, which has higher ages for when children can make independent decisions or contribute to processes that affect them.

Information on biological family

One notable exception is the right of adopted children to obtain information concerning their biological origins. In ten countries, there is no right to access information and biological information is considered secret regardless of age (see the map below). Two countries have set the age at 18 years, while Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan allow adolescents to access information from between 14-16 years. Although this research did not look specifically for information on children conceived by in vitro fertilisation with donor sperm or egg cells, it may be assumed that similar rules apply.


Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility

Many countries make distinctions between a general minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR), but allow exceptions to criminalise children at a lower age for particularly serious crimes.

This research asks specifically for the lowest age at which children can be subjected to criminal proceedings, even if only for a specified number of crimes. This lowest MACR is broadly set at 14 years across the region. Two countries have set ages lower than this: in Turkey it is 12 years and in Uzbekistan it is 13 years. No data has been gathered on the general minimum age of criminal responsibility, which may be higher in some countries.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) recommends in General Comment No. 10 the age of 12 as absolute minimum age of criminal responsibility and encourages States to continue to raise it towards 18 years. The MACR across the CEE/CIS region compares well to the global average of 12.1 years.


Minimum age of criminal responsibility

Also interesting in this regard is that the age at which children may independently address a court, not as a defendant but as plaintiff, is not always set at the same age. The difference to the minimum age of criminal responsibility can be seen in the map below


Difference between MACR and the minimum age to seek redress in court

In only one country is the age to seek redress court lower than the minimum age of criminal responsibility, in Serbia. In the majority of countries both ages are aligned except for Turkey (MACR 6 years lower than the age to seek redress); Armenia and Romania (4 years); Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro (each 2 years); Uzbekistan (1 year). In these countries, children can be treated as criminals before they can become plaintiffs (also see the table at the end of this section).

What adolescents said: Views on criminal responsibility in five countries

Due to the complex nature of the concept of “criminal responsibility”, respondents were only asked about their knowledge of the law in the survey, while a deeper exploration of the topic was left for focus groups, with an experienced facilitator who could adequately guide the discussions.

When asked in the survey about when a young person can be charged if they commit a crime, only 24,6% of respondents selected the correct age, which is broadly 14-years-old in all countries*. Most respondents thought the age of criminal responsibility was higher, with about a quarter of respondents thinking it was at age 16, and a quarter at age 18.

From what age can a young person be charged if they commit a crime?

During the consultation adolescents shared a strong desire to be protected from activities or experiences that could cause them harm. This included a near unanimous agreement in the focus groups that children should not be charged as adults. Participants felt strongly that any punishment should not negatively impact future prospects, with the belief that

young people who offend can be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society.

“[14-years old] is too exaggerated. That child does not know how to behave! He does not know how people are. He is not yet standing on his own feet, he does not know what to do in his life.”
— Vio**, 11-years old, discussing the age of criminal responsibility in Romania in a mixed gender focus group of urban youths between the ages of 10 and 13
While they had different ideas about the age at which a young person should be held responsible for criminal acts, this did not mean that they believed that young people who offended should not bear some consequence. Participants believed that the aim should be for the young person to understand what they did was wrong and to prevent future offending.

“If he is sent to prison, his life will be broken. It is better to have some educational activity. Clearly, it is difficult to determine how to change [behaviour], but, well, it is necessary somehow for these people. Some kind of community service, or some kind of social activity, for example. Give them an alternative.”
— Igor**, 16-years old, discussing the penalties that a young person could face found guilty of breaking the law in Ukraine in a mixed gender focus group of vulnerable urban youth between the ages of 14 and 17

*Note: As many laws have several exceptions and consideration, the most widely applicable ages were used in the consultation. This was to ensure that ages would be easy to understand by adolescent participants for the sake of discussion. For more on the legal minimum ages used in the consultation, please see our Methodology.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy and confidentiality of focus group participants. For more on ethical considerations when conducting research with adolescents, please see our Methodology.