Children and rights in Ireland
In Ireland under the Child Care Act 1991, the Children Act 2001 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child a child is defined as anyone under the age of 18. Unless you are or were married, you cannot enter a legally binding contract until you are aged 18, except for certain contracts such as for apprenticeships or for necessities like food. What a child is allowed to do is restricted by his/her age. This document provides information on such issues that can have an impact on a child’s life.
Education and Employment
The Irish education system is made up of primary, second-level, third-level and further education. Children can attend primary school from the age of 4. To attend second-level they must be aged 12 on 1 January in the first school year of attendance.
There is also an Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme for children of pre-school age. To be eligible for the scheme they must be at least 2 years and 8 months of age.
Attendance at school (or receiving an education) is compulsory from the age of 6 up to age 16 or until students have completed 3 years of second-level education, whichever is the later.
There is no compulsory early childhood education.
Tusla - the Child and Family Agency - is the national agency established to ensure that every child attends school regularly, or otherwise receives an appropriate minimum education. The Board:
- Monitors school attendance, and takes a range of measures where children do not attend school
- Maintains a register of children who are not attending a recognised school
- Maintains a register of children aged 16 and 17 who leave school early to take up employment and makes arrangements for their continuing education and training in consultation with providers and employers
Parents and guardians have a legal obligation to ensure that their child attends a school or otherwise receives an education. If Tusla considers that the parents are failing in their obligation, it sends the parents a School Attendance Notice warning and if the parents fail to comply, they may be prosecuted. Further information is available in our document on school attendance.
The Board also intervenes in relation to proposed school expulsions.
Further information is available in our document, Overview of the Irish education system.
Under the Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act 1996 employers cannot employ children under age 16 in regular full-time jobs. Children under age 14 cannot be employed. Children aged 14 and 15 may be employed as follows:
- Doing light work during the school holidays – they must have at least 21 days off work during this time
- As part of an approved work experience or educational programme where the work is not harmful to their health, safety or development
- In film, cultural, advertising work or sport under licences issued by the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation
Children aged 15 may do 8 hours a week light work in school term time. The maximum working week for children outside school term time is 35 hours or up to 40 hours if they are on approved work experience.
The maximum working week for children aged 16 and 17 is 40 hours with a maximum of 8 hours a day.
The National Minimum Wage Act 2000 provides for the minimum wage rate. From 1 February 2020, the national minimum wage rate is €10.10 an hour. Wage rates are solely based on age, for example, an employee under age 18 is entitled €7.07 per hour or 70% of the minimum wage. An employee aged 18 is entitled to 80% and an employee aged 19 is entitled to 90% of the minimum wage respectively.
An employer can pay more and this should be written in your contract of employment.
You can find out more about the National Minimum Wage in our document, Minimum rates of pay in Ireland.
Apprenticeships and other careers
The minimum age you can pursue certain careers is as follows:
- You can become a SOLAS apprentice at age 16
- You can become an apprentice in the Army or Air Corps at age 18
- You can join the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service at age 18
- You can join the Garda Síochána at age 18
There is no legal minimum age for babysitting. (The babysitter's level of maturity and competence are the main attributes a parent should consider)
When working, you start paying social insurance contributions from 16 years of age. However, you cannot claim an unemployment payment, such as Jobseeker’s Benefit or Jobseeker’s Allowance, until age 18. You must also meet other criteria in order to qualify.
Travel and recreation
|Category||Vehicle type||Minimum age of driver|
|AM||Mopeds and tricycles with a maximum speed of 45kph and light quadricycles||16 years|
|A1||Motorcycles of 11kW or less and 125cc or less, with a maximum power/weight ratio of 0.1kW/kg, and motor tricycles of 15kW or less||16 years|
|B||Vehicles with seats for up to 8 passengers and a maximum weight of 3,500kg (includes pulling a trailer where the maximum weight of the trailer when fully loaded is 750kg or less)||17 years|
|W||Work vehicles with or without a trailer, such as a land tractor or JCB||16 years|
A motorist must pass the driver theory test before applying for a first learner permit. You can take a driver theory test at any age. However, you must submit your pass certificate to a Motor Tax Office with your application for a first learner permit within two years of passing the theory test or the test certificate will have expired.
You cannot drive any craft with an engine over 3.7kW (5hp) unless you are at least 12 years of age.
You have to be at least 16 years of age before you can drive a personal watercraft (jet ski) or a powerboat/motorboat that is capable of 17 knots or more.
Children cannot book a holiday or a flight until they are 18 years of age. Many carriers will not allow children under 16 years of age to travel unaccompanied – contact your carrier to check what its policy is.
Passports for children under 18 years of age are valid for 5 years. Parental consent is required when applying. From 1 November 2019, you can make a first-time application online for a passport for someone under 18 years of age provided they are resident in:
- Northern Ireland
- Great Britain
- the European Union
Since November 2018, you can renew a child's passport online.
You can apply for a ten-year passport when you are 18 years of age or over.
Under the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003, it is an offence to buy alcohol or for someone to buy it for you, if you are under age 18. It is also an offence for you to drink alcohol unless you are in a private residence and have your parents’ consent.
It is an offence for you to be in an off-licence unless you are with a parent or guardian.
Children are only allowed on licensed premises if they are with a parent or guardian, but this provision carries certain restrictions. If accompanied by a parent/guardian, a child may remain on the premises up to 9pm (10pm from May to September) unless the licence holder feels this is harmful to the child's health, safety and welfare. Children aged between 15-17 years may remain on the premises after 9pm where they are attending a private function at which a substantial meal is served.
Under the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 the Gardaí have the power to seize alcohol in the possession of a child under 18 years of age where the Gardaí have reasonable cause to believe that the alcohol will be consumed by a child under 18 years in a public place.
Further information is available in our document, Alcohol and the law.
Under the Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2002 it is an offence to sell cigarettes or other tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18.
If you are under 18 years of age, from January 2016 you cannot smoke in a car. Also, no one else can smoke while you are in the car.
You cannot buy a Lotto ticket or make a bet until you are 18 years of age. Under the Betting Act 1931 it is an offence for a child under age 18 to be in a bookmakers. However, under the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 you can engage in gaming at an amusement hall or funfair from the age of 16.
Films, videos and computer games
What films you can watch in the cinema depends on the film’s classification. The film classifications currently in use are as follows:
- G: The film is suitable for everyone including children of school going age
- PG: While the film may be watched by unaccompanied children, parental guidance is recommended as to its suitability for children under 12 years of age
- 12A: While the film is considered suitable only for children aged 12 or over, a child under age 12 may be admitted to see the film if he/she is accompanied by a parent or guardian
- 15A: While the film is considered suitable only for children aged 15 or over, a child under age 15 may be admitted to see the film if he/she is accompanied by a parent or guardian
- 16: The film is considered to be suitable for children aged 16 or over. Children under this age cannot be admitted to screenings
- 18: The film is considered suitable for persons age 18 or over
Further information is available in our document, Censorship of films in Ireland.
A similar classification system is used for renting or buying Videos and DVDs:
- G: The video/DVD is suitable for viewers generally
- PG: The video/DVD is suitable for viewers generally, but parental guidance is recommended for children under 12
- 12: The video/DVD is suitable for people aged 12 or over
- 15: The video/DVD is suitable for people aged 15 or over
- 18: The video/DVD is suitable for persons age 18 or over
Further information is available in our document, Censorship of video and DVD recordings.
Ireland uses the Pan-European Game Information (PEGI) age rating system for the classification of computer games. It is a voluntary system that retailers selling computer games are expected to follow. The classifications are as follows:
- 3+: The game content is suitable for all age groups
- 7+: The game content is suitable for children aged 7 or over
- 12+: The game content is suitable for children aged 12 or over
- 16+: The game content is suitable for children aged 16 or over
- 18+: The game content is suitable for people aged 18 or over
The age rating does not take into account the difficulty level or skills required to play a game.
Under the Control of Dogs Act 1986 you cannot keep a dog unless you have a dog licence for it. A local authority does not issue a dog licence to anyone under 16 years of age.
If you have your dog out in public you must keep it under control, such as on a lead. Certain breeds of dog must be muzzled at all times in public. These dogs must be led by someone over the age of 16 and kept on a strong chain or lead that is no longer than 2 metres.
You do not require a licence to own other pets and there is no legislation specifying a minimum age at which you can own a pet.
Drones and model aircraft
Drones and model aircraft weighing 1kg or more, and less than 25kg, must be registered with the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA). When calculating the weight, fuel is not included. However, any articles or equipment installed in or attached to the aircraft at the start of its flight, including cargo, are included.
You must be over 16 years of age to register a drone or model aircraft. Drones and model aircraft operated by those under 16 years of age must be registered by a parent or legal guardian. Information on registering is available on the IAA website.
When operating a drone or model aircraft, you must never operate it:
- If it will be a hazard to another aircraft in flight
- Over a crowd of people
- Farther than 300 metres from you
- Within 120 metres of any person, vessel or structure not under your control
- Closer than 5 kilometres from an aerodrome
- In a negligent or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of others
- Over 120 metres above ground level
- Over urban areas
- In civil or military controlled airspace
- In restricted areas such as military installations and prisons
- Unless you have permission from the landowner for take-off and landing
Unmanned aircraft of 25kg or more must be registered in a similar manner to manned aircraft.
You have to be aged 16 or over before you can apply for a firearms certificate. You have to be aged 14 or over before you can apply for a firearms training certificate. A firearms training certificate does not allow you to own a firearm but it does allow you to possess a firearm while carrying and using it under the supervision of the person who holds a firearm certificate for that firearm and is over 18 years of age.
The requirement to have a firearm certificate also applies to crossbows, spearguns and all airguns above a certain muzzle velocity (including paintball markers).
There is no set minimum age at which you can own a knife. However, it is an offence to have a knife in a public place without a good reason, such as for work.
Health and relationships
There is a range of services specifically for children and certain services are provided free of charge even if their parents do not have a medical card. These services are generally provided as part of maternity and infant welfare services, health services for preschool children and school health services. Children are also entitled to vaccination and immunisation services free of charge.
In general, parental consent is required for children to have medical and surgical tests and procedures and to receive vaccinations and inoculations. Under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997, children aged 16 and over may themselves give consent to surgical procedures.
Body piercing and tattooing
There is no legislation regulating body piercing and tattooing. As a result there is no legal minimum age at which you can get a body piercing or tattoo.
Under Directive 2011/84/EU of 20 September 2011(pdf) you must be aged 18 or over to have your teeth whitened.
Under the Public Health (Sunbeds) Act 2014 you must be aged 18 or over to use a sunbed.
You cannot become a blood donor until you are aged 18.
There is no set minimum age in Ireland at which contraceptive advice and prescriptions may be provided. The age of consent to sexual activity is 17 and it may be a criminal offence to have sex with a person under 17 years of age. This means that providers of contraceptive services are entitled to refuse to provide those services to people under 17.
Under Section 3 of the Criminal Law (Sex Offences) Act 2006 as amended by Section 5 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Act 2007 it is a criminal offence to engage or attempt to engage in a sexual act with a child under 17 years of age. It is not a defence to show that the child consented to the sexual act. However, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 recognises the reality of under age, consensual, peer relationships through the introduction of a ‘proximity of age’ defence. Under this provision, a person charged with an offence of engaging in a sexual act with a person between the ages of 15 and 17 years can use consent as a defence if the person charged is younger or is less than two years older. They must not be in authority over the child or be intimidatory or exploitative.
The consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions is required for any prosecution of a child under the age of 17 years for this offence. A girl under the age of 17 who has sexual intercourse may not be convicted of an offence on that ground alone.
It is an offence for a person in authority to engage or attempt to engage in a sexual act with a child under 18 years of age.
Recognition of preferred gender
An application can be made for a gender recognition certificate on behalf of a child aged 16 years or over if a court order is obtained that exempts the child from meeting the age requirement.
If you are ordinarily resident in Ireland, the minimum age at which you can marry is 18 years. This is the case even if you marry outside of Ireland.
Further information is available in our documents on the legal requirements for marriage.
A parent is required to maintain a dependent child. A dependent child is a child who:
- Is under 18 years old or
- Is over 18 and under 23 years old but is still in full-time education
If a court decides that the parent of a dependent child has failed to provide such maintenance for the child as is proper in the circumstances, it may order that parent to make periodical maintenance payments to support the child. The court may also order a parent to pay a lump sum.
You can leave home at age 16, provided you have your parents’ consent. No consent is required at age 18.
If you leave home before you are 18 without your parents’ consent and you are considered to be homeless or at risk, Tusla may be asked to intervene. Information on the powers available to Tusla is available in our document, Children in care.
Tracing natural parents
If you have been adopted and wish to trace your natural parents, you can have your details entered in the Adoption Authority’s National Adoption Contact Preference Register which facilitates contact between adopted people and their natural families. However, you must be 18 years of age or over.
The age of criminal responsibility is 12 years of age. This means that children who have not reached the age of 12 cannot be charged with an offence. There is an exception, however, for children aged 10 or 11, who can be charged with murder, manslaughter, rape or aggravated sexual assault.
Where a child under 14 years of age is charged with an offence, no further proceedings can be taken without the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Children under 12
Where the Gardaí have reasonable grounds for believing that a child under 12 years of age has committed an offence with which the child cannot be charged due to his/her age, the Gardaí must take the child to his/her parents or guardian. Where this is not possible, the Gardaí will arrange for the child to be taken into the custody of the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) services for the area in which the child normally resides. It is possible that children under 12 years of age who commit criminal offences will be dealt with by Tusla and not the criminal justice system. Information on the powers available to Tusla is available in our document, Children in care.
Detention in a Garda station
When a child is detained in a Garda station it is the duty of the Garda in charge of the station to ensure that, as far as possible, the child is not allowed meet with or associate with adult suspects being detained in the station at the same time. A child may not be interviewed in a Garda station except in the presence of his/her parent or guardian. It may be permitted where there are very special circumstances, for example, where a delay in questioning would involve a risk of death or injury.
Children being charged with a crime are dealt with by the Children Court. The court can impose a period of detention on a child. Where the child is under 16 years of age the child is detained in a children detention school which are managed by the Irish Youth Justice Service. Children aged 16 and 17 are detained in a child detention centre. However, the court can only impose a detention order where it is satisfied that it is the only suitable way to deal with the child and, for a child under 16 years of age, that a place in a children detention school is available.
Apart from detention there are also diversion programmes and community sanctions available to the court.
There is more information on children and the criminal justice system in our section on children and young offenders.
In order to vote in an election or referendum in Ireland, you must be registered to vote. To be eligible to be included on the Register of Electors, you must be at least 18 years old on the day the Register comes into force (15 February).
You are eligible for inclusion in the supplement to the Register of Electors on or after the day on which you reach 18 years of age. You can be included in the supplement if this birthday falls after the closing date for applications for the supplement but is on or before polling day. If you are within this category, you should submit your application with a copy of your birth certificate.
You cannot stand as a candidate in an election until you are at least 18 years of age. You must be:
- Age 18 for local elections
- Age 21 for national and European elections
- Age 35 for presidential elections
Unless you are or were married, you cannot enter a legally binding contract until you are aged 18. The exception to this is contracts for necessaries and beneficial contracts of service which are in your best interests. Contracts for necessaries usually include contracts for food, clothing and lodging, but may also cover contracts for items connected with education and training such as school books and training uniforms.
Beneficial contracts of service usually involve contracts for apprenticeships or contracts with agents or managers. These contracts of service are only enforceable if they are to your advantage and in your best interests.
Accounts for children of primary school age are usually simple, easy to use savings or deposit accounts that pay interest and have no charges. You can open them with a very small amount of money.
Accounts for secondary school students usually offer ATM cards, but you have to keep the account in credit at all times. They do not offer an overdraft facility and there is a limit to how much you can withdraw. Usually you do not have to pay fees and charges.
You cannot open a standard current account until you are aged 18.
When opening an account each provider has different procedures. Some providers require that a parent or guardian sign the account opening form if you are under 16 years of age. Other providers only require parental permission if you are under 13 years of age.
More information is available in our document, Opening and switching a bank account.
You cannot sit on a jury in a court until you are aged 18. Your name must be on the Register of Electors for the Dáil.
Making a will
You cannot make a will until you are aged 18 unless you are or have been married.
Changing your name
The surname of a child can be changed in the Register of Births but only in certain circumstances. However, the surname of a child can also be changed by deed poll or common usage.
Children aged between 14 and 17 years can execute the Deed Poll themselves but need the consent of both parents. Where a child is under the age of 14 years, one of the child's parents must execute the Deed Poll with the consent of the other parent.
You can change your name by deed poll without consent when you are aged 18 or over.
The Children's Rights Alliance in association with the Irish Council for Civil Liberties has published Know Your Rights: The Rights of Children and Young People.