About this information
In this information child means someone aged under 14 and young person means someone aged 14 or over but under 18. Parent means someone with parental responsibility.
Whatever age you are, you have the right to a confidential consultation with a doctor about the possibility of having an abortion. If you are under 16, the doctor should only tell your parents if you agree to them being told, or in exceptional circumstances.
If you're under the age of 16, you can have an abortion if two doctors agree that you have good reasons under the abortion laws. You don't need your parent's consent, as long as the doctors believe that you fully understand the treatment and its consequences.
However, doctors usually prefer the matter to be discussed with your parents and will try to persuade you to do so.
If a doctor has a moral objection to abortion, they should make this clear to you and arrange for you to see someone else who is willing to help.
If you don't want to see your own GP, you can get help from another agency, such as a local family planning centre or a Brook Advisory Centre – see under the heading Further help.
Further information for young people about abortion is available on the Brook website at www.brook.org.uk.
It's a criminal offence to give alcohol to a child under five (unless it is given by a doctor on health grounds or is given in the case of sickness or for some other urgent reason).
If you're five or over and under 16, there is no legal restriction on you drinking alcohol at home or on other private premises.
It's a criminal offence for someone under 18 to buy alcohol or drink alcohol in a pub. It is also a criminal offence for someone to buy alcohol for someone else if the other person is under 18 and the alcohol is to be drunk in a bar or a pub or in the street.
Anyone working in a pub will be committing a criminal offence if they sell or allow someone under 18 to drink alcohol in a pub. However, they will have a defence if they can prove that they had no reason to suspect that the person was under 18.
If police suspect a young person of possessing alcohol (or something they believe to be alcohol) in a public place other than licensed premises, they can confiscate it. The police can also confiscate alcohol (or what they think may be alcohol) from someone of any age if they suspect some of it has been, or is intended to be, drunk by someone under 18 in a public place. The police can arrest anyone who tries to prevent them confiscating what they believe to be alcohol.
Pubs, restaurants and hotels in England and Wales
If you're under 16, you aren't normally allowed to go into a pub or other licensed premises where alcohol is sold and consumed unless you are accompanied by someone who is 18 or over.
If you're under 18, it is an offence for you to buy or attempt to buy alcohol. It is also an offence for someone else to buy it for you if you're under 18.
However, if you're aged 16 or 17, you are allowed to drink wine, beer, or cider (but not other alcohol) with a meal in a restaurant, hotel or part of a pub set apart for eating meals. You can only do this if someone aged 18 or over is with you at the meal and buys the alcohol.
If you are 16 or over, you can buy liqueur chocolates.
Pubs, restaurants and hotels in Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland, if you're under 18 you're allowed to go into a pub which serves food. However, you're not allowed to drink any alcohol, regardless of whether an adult has bought it or not.
You're not allowed to drink alcohol in a restaurant or hotel.
Blood and organ donation
In England and Wales, you're not allowed to donate blood unless you are considered to have enough understanding of what's involved. In Northern Ireland, a person under the age of 17 isn't allowed to donate blood.
If you're under 18, you can donate your body and organs on death. However, if you're under 16, you need to get your parent's consent to carry a donor card. Parental consent is also required before the organs can be used.
There are no legal restrictions on the age when you can have your ears or most other body parts pierced. However, piercing the nipples or genitals of a girl under 16 or piercing the genitals of a boy under 16 could be seen as a sexual assault even if they consent to the piercing. Some establishments have their own informal guidelines about age restrictions and getting parental consent.
It's illegal to sell cigarettes, tobacco or cigarette papers to anyone under 18.
Smoking is banned in all public places and workplaces, whatever your age.
If you want to give up smoking, there is a website designed for young people that can offer you help and support. Go to: www.quitbecause.org.uk.
There are no age restrictions on giving contraceptive advice and supplies. As long as you understand the possible risks, a doctor is allowed to prescribe contraception if you're under 16 without the consent or knowledge of a parent.
Your doctor will probably encourage you to discuss with your parents the fact you've been to see them about contraception. However, they will only tell your parents or another adult that you've been to see them in very exceptional circumstances. An example of exceptional circumstances is when a doctor believes you're at risk of serious harm. They would always discuss this with you first, before telling any one else.
In Wales, community pharmacists can also provide the morning-after pill free of charge to under 16s, if they think there is a clinical need.
Information for young people about contraception is available on the Brook website at www.brook.org.uk.
Discrimination in health care
The NHS and other organisations or people providing health care services are not allowed to discriminate against you because of age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy or childbirth, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation.
The NHS and other organisations or people providing health care services are not allowed to discriminate against you because of race, sex, sexual orientation, religion or disability. Discrimination because of your age is not against the law.
Also, your NHS Trust, Local Health Board or other health care organisation might have an equality policy which says it will not discriminate against you for other reasons, for example, if you have HIV or if you are a transsexual.
If you think that a doctor, dentist, nurse or other health care professional is discriminating against you, you can complain about this. Ask to see a copy of the equality policy of the organisation they work for and point out where they are failing to keep to it.
For more information about making a complaint about health services in England, see Dealing with NHS problems - where to start. In Wales, see NHS complaints in Wales. In Northern Ireland, see HSC complaints in Northern Ireland.
For more about discrimination, see our discrimination pages.
If you are in possession of illegal drugs, you may face prosecution, depending on your age.
For information about the prosecution of young people, see Young people and the law.
Glue sniffing and other solvent abuse
It is a criminal offence to sell solvents to a child or young person if the seller knows the product will be abused.
It's not against the law to sniff solvents or other volatile substances such as aerosols, hairspray or nail varnish, unless you do it in a public place. If you sniff glue or other volatile substances in a public place, you can be arrested and charged with breach of the peace. You can get more information about glue sniffing and other solvent abuse from the website of Re-Solv at: www.re-solv.org.
If you want advice about HIV/AIDS, you will need to seek specialist advice, for example, from the Terrence Higgins Trust. They offer information, support and advice services to anyone living with HIV and anyone who is concerned about HIV. Their contact details are:
Terence Higgins Trust
314 - 320 Grays Inn Road
Tel: 0808 802 1221 (helpline: open Monday to Friday, 10am to 10pm and weekends, noon to 6pm)
Tel: 020 7812 1600 (admin)
Fax: 020 7812 1601
Registering with a GP
If you're under 16, you have no right to choose your own GP and must be registered by a parent. If you're aged 16 and over, you can choose your own GP.
You can find more information about GPs on Adviceguide.
If you're under 16, you have the right to a confidential consultation with a doctor, provided you make it clear that you do not want your parents to be told. However, your doctor can refuse to discuss the matter if they are unwilling to accept your request for confidentiality. If you're aged 16 and above, you have the right to confidential advice and treatment.
Consent to medical treatment
If you're under 16, you can give your own consent to medical treatment provided you fully understand what is involved. If a doctor decides that you don't fully understand what is involved, your parents can give consent on your behalf.
If you're under 18 and refuse treatment, your parents or medical staff may go to court. The court can decide whether to give a court order to override your decision to refuse treatment.
You can find more information about consent to medical treatment on Adviceguide.
If you're under 16 (or aged 16, 17 or 18 and in full-time education), you're entitled to free prescriptions, dental treatment (including check ups), eye tests, vouchers for glasses and free wigs and fabric supports. In Wales and Northern Ireland, you're entitled to free prescriptions whatever your age.
If you're aged 16 and 17 and are not in full time education, you're entitled to free dental treatment (including check ups). You may also qualify for help with other NHS treatment if you are on a low income.
If you're aged 16 or 17 and maintained financially by the local authority (either wholly or partly), you're entitled to free prescriptions, eye tests, vouchers for glasses, wigs and fabric supports.
If you are not in any of these categories, you may still get help with NHS charges if you’re on a low income.
For more information about NHS charges, including information about people who qualify for help if they're on a low income, see Help with health costs.
Making a complaint about NHS care and treatment
If you’re a child or young person, you have the right to make a complaint about something that goes wrong or if you’re not happy about the way you’ve been treated. It’s important to complain if something goes wrong so things can be made better next time. There’s a proper procedure to follow if you want to make a complaint or raise concerns.
You can make a complaint even if you’re under 16 - the complaint doesn’t have to come from your parent if you’re old enough to understand what you’re doing.
You have rights when you make a complaint. For example:
- complaints must be kept confidential except in very exceptional cases where you’re at risk of harm
- you don’t have to put your complaint in writing - you can talk it through with someone if you prefer
- you can get help to make a complaint. There are organisations that can support children and young people.
If you don't want to make a complaint yourself, you can ask someone else to make a complaint for you. Your parents, a friend or an advice worker can make the complaint if you give them permission.
Self-harm is where you hurt or injury yourself, for example:
- cutting yourself
- taking overdoses of tablets or medicines
- scratching your skin to cause sores and scarring.
If you're self-harming, you can get help to stop. There's a useful website at selfharm.co.uk. It gives you more information about self-harming and the contact details of organisations that can help.
Sex and sexual orientation
The age of consent
It is a criminal offence for someone of either sex to take part in sexual activity with someone under the age of 16, unless it is reasonable to believe that that person is 16 or older. Sexual activity includes sexual intercourse and intentional sexual touching. The penalties for an offence of this type are more severe if it is committed by someone who is 18 or over rather than someone who is under 18.
It is legal for two people of the opposite sex or the same sex to have a sexual relationship if you are both 16 or over and you both consent to the sexual activity.
Where both people are under 16, each will be committing an offence if they have a sexual relationship. However, it is unlikely that there will be any prosecution if both people agreed to have sex and one person was not taking advantage of the other. If someone under the age of 16 is sexually involved with someone else aged 16 or over, the younger person will not be committing an offence. However, the person over 16 could be charged.
Incest and child abuse
Incest means sexual intercourse between close relatives and it is a criminal offence.
Child abuse can include physical or emotional neglect, physical injury or sexual abuse.
For more information about child abuse in England and Wales, see child abuse
If you are worried about child abuse or incest, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.
Sexually transmitted diseases
If you think you have a sexually transmitted disease and want advice or treatment, go to a family doctor, family planning clinic, clinic for sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy advisory service. A Brook Advisory Centre can give you more information – see under heading Further help.
If you are under 16, it is for the doctor to decide whether or not to act without consulting a parent. If you're concerned about confidentiality, you should check whether or not the doctor is prepared to treat you in confidence.
For details on using sunbeds see Young people – money and consumer rights.
It is a criminal offence to tattoo anyone under 18 unless a qualified medical practitioner does it for medical reasons. Someone who tattoos anyone under 18 can be prosecuted unless they show they had good cause to believe the person was over 18.
Brook Advisory Centres
421 Highgate Studios
53-79 Highgate Road
Tel: 020 7284 6040 (information on nearest centre)
Helpline: 0808 802 1234
Fax: 020 7284 6050
Brook Advisory Centres offer the following services to young people under 25 years of age:
- pregnancy testing and counselling
- contraception advice and treatment
- emergency contraception
- abortion counselling and referral
- advice on, and treatment of, sexually transmitted diseases
- counselling on emotional, sexual and relationship.
All consultations are confidential.
Children First for Health
The Children First for Health website is a health information resource for young people, run by Great Ormond Street Hospital. It is aimed at children from the age of four, as well as young people and families. Users can email questions to the website and responses are written in conjunction with clinicians at the hospital. Go to: www.childrenfirst.nhs.uk.
Terence Higgins Trust
314 - 320 Grays Inn Road
Tel: 0845 12 21 200 (helpline: open Monday to Friday, 10am to 10pm and weekends, noon to 6pm)
Tel: 020 7812 1600 (admin)
Fax: 020 7812 1601
Terence Higgins Trust offers information, support and advice to anyone living with HIV and anyone who is concerned about HIV or any other aspect of sexual health.
Further information for young people
You can find more information about the rights of children and young people elsewhere in Adviceguide.
For information about the general rights of children and young people, see Young people's rights.
For information about employment, see Young people and employment.
For information about housing, see Young people and housing.
For information about family matters, see Young people and family.
For information about money and consumer rights, see Young people - money and consumer rights.
For information about benefits, see Young people and benefits.
For information about the law and young people, see Young people and the law.
For information about transport, see Young people - travel and transport.