This advice applies to Northern Ireland. Change country
Young people's rights
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.
Proof of age
There are many schemes that provide cards to help prove your age. Many local authorities and local colleges run card schemes.
The national Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS) does not issue cards itself but sets standards and approves other schemes. If a card has the PASS hologram it means that the card issuer has met strict standards set by PASS and that the card can be relied on. Make sure that any proof of age card you get shows the PASS hologram. For more information and for details of approved schemes, go to the PASS website at: www.pass-scheme.org.uk.
It's against the law to discriminate against anyone, including a child or young person, because of:
- race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins
- sexual orientation
- religion or belief
- political belief.
Some of the places where you are protected from discrimination include schools and colleges, work, shops, clubs, pubs, hospitals and clinics and council services. You are protected against discrimination whether you are buying something or getting it for free.
In certain circumstances, there are exceptions to these rules which mean that discrimination is allowed.
If you have experienced discrimination, you may be able to take action against the organisation or person responsible.
For more information about discrimination, see our discrimination pages.
Nationality and immigration
The law on nationality and immigration is complicated, and you should seek the help of 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 email, click on nearest CAB.
At any age, you have the right to see information kept about you, unless the person looking after the information considers you incapable of understanding the nature of the request you are making. If you are refused access to your records you can complain to the Information Commissioner.
As a parent you do not usually have the right to see information about your child kept on a computer record. This will only be allowed if:
- the person looking after the information knows that the child has authorised the request; or
- if the request is being made on behalf of a child or young person who is considered incapable of understanding the nature of the request.
For more information on access to personal records, visit the Office of the Information Commissioner website at www.informationcommissioner.gov.uk.
As a parent, you have a legal right to smack your child. However, if the violence you use is severe enough to leave a mark, for example a scratch or a bruise, you can be prosecuted for assault, or the child can be taken into local authority care.
No teacher in a school is allowed to inflict corporal punishment on a pupil of any age. In Northern Ireland, no teacher in a grant-aided school is allowed to inflict corporal punishment on a pupil of any age.
The head teacher and teachers can use reasonable non-physical means to punish a pupil for unacceptable conduct or behaviour. Any punishment must be fair, reasonable and within the school’s policy. Examples of reasonable punishment are extra work during school hours or being told off.
A member of staff can use reasonable physical force to break up a fight between pupils or to stop pupils endangering themselves, other pupils or school property or to prevent a pupil from committing a criminal offence.
For more information, see Problems at school.
In care and other institutions
Corporal punishment must not be inflicted on any child or young person living in a children’s home, secure unit, foster home provided by the local authority or voluntary organisation, residential care home or young offender institution. If a child or young person lives in a private foster home, nursing or mental nursing home, or youth treatment centre, mild smacking is allowed as long as it does not leave a mark.
If you are concerned about the use of punishment, 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 email, click on nearest CAB.
In England and Wales a registered childminder is not allowed to smack a child in their care. In Northern Ireland, where smacking by a childminder is not banned, parents must have agreed that the childminder is allowed to use this sanction on their individual child and use of physical force must be a last resort.
If you are concerned about the use of punishment, you should seek the help of an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
Parents have the right to choose whether their child follows a religion at home and school, and, if so, which one. However, a child or young person may choose their own religion if they have sufficient understanding. If a parent considers the child's chosen religion to be harmful, a court can be asked to intervene.
There is a general requirement on schools to provide religious education but it is possible for an individual child to be withdrawn from religious education.
For more information about religious education in schools, see Problems at school.
Helpline: 0800 1111 (24 hour free advice line)
Children and young people can ring or write, in confidence, if they need advice or are in trouble or danger. Childline can offer both support and practical help.
Tel: 0870 336 2935
Helpline: 0800 1111 (24 hour free advice line)
Fax: 0870 336 2936
Coram Children's Legal Centre (England only)
Coram Children's Legal Centre (England)
Riverside Office Centre
Century House North
North Station Road
Child and family law advice line: 0300 330 5480 (Monday to Friday from 8.00am to 6.00pm)
Education law advice line: 0300 330 5485 (Monday to Friday from 8.00am to 6.00pm)
Migrant Children's Project advice line: 020 7636 8505 (Tuesday to Thursday from 10.00am to 4.00pm)
Head office: 01206 714650
Fax: 01206 714660
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (for general enquiries only, no legal questions can be answered by email)
Website for young people: www.lawstuff.org.uk
Coram Children's Legal Centre provides free legal advice and sometimes representation to children and parents on family, child and education law. The centre has lots of useful fact sheets on its website. The centre also has a specialist helpline for migrant children, their families and advisers.
The Office of the Children's Commissioner for England
The Office of the Children's Commissioner for England looks after the interests and acts as the independent voice of children and young people.
Children's Commissioner for Wales
Tel: 0800 801 1000 (Mon-Fri 9.00am -5.00pm)
Textphone: 80800 and start the message with COM
South Wales office
Swansea SA7 9FS
North Wales Office
Conwy LL29 7YW
Tel: 01492 523333
Fax: 01492 523336
The Children's Commissioner for Wales can give children and young people living in Wales advice about their rights and welfare. The Commissioner can also help you make a complaint about your treatment if you are using the usual complaints procedure of an institution such as a school, care home or social services department. If your complaint is unsuccessful, the Commissioner may be able to carry out a separate investigation.
The Children's Commissioner also has powers to take action over 'whistleblowing'. 'Whistleblowing', in this case, is where an employee of an organisation for children and young people raises concerns that the organisation is acting against the interests of children in its care.
Children can use the special freephone and freetext numbers to contact the Commissioner, which won't show up on any phone bill. There's also a special email address for children to use. The service is bilingual and if you want to talk to someone in a language other than English or Welsh, they will try to make this possible.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC)
NSPCC offers advice, information and support.
The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY)
The Commissioner's role is to safeguard and promote the rights and best interests of children and young people.
7-9 Shaftesbury Square
Youth Action (Northern Ireland)
YouthAction Northern Ireland works with young people to support them as active and equal citizens whose voices are heard, respected and valued.
14 College Square North
Tel: 028 9024 0551
Fax: 028 9024 0556