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