What is a child?

Girl on stepping stones

In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, a child is someone who has not yet reached their 18th birthday. Once they turn 18, they are legally an adult.

In most situations in Scotland, a child is defined as someone who is under 18. But in some contexts, for example in some parts of the child protection system, a child is defined as a person under 16 years of age.

There are also different laws across the UK that specify age limits for young people in different circumstances. These include leaving school; leaving care; the age of consent; and the age of criminal responsibility.

Read more about legal definitions

Legal definitions

Legal definition of a child and their rights by law, and the ages at which certain rules apply.
Read up on legal definitions

What the law says about children working

Information on children, employment and the law, including legislation, school-leavers, babysitting, work experience placements and apprenticeships.
Find out what the law says

Bedroom sharing and moving out

Information and guidance on children sharing bedrooms and legislation on what age a child can leave home.
Find out more

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Last year a third of all calls to our helpline were about neglect, a figure that's even higher at Christmas. Donate now and help shine a light on children left in the dark.

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Work or volunteer with children and families?

Visit NSPCC Learning for information, resources and training to help you safeguard and protect children and young people across the UK.

Go to NSPCC Learning