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Know Your Rights: My Right to be Treated Equally

Section 1 of Know Your Rights: The Rights of Children and Young People

Written by ICCL and Children's Rights Alliance and posted in life

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This factsheet is an extract from the publication Know Your Rights: The Rights of Children and Young People, published by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) and the Children’s Rights Alliance. It is reproduced here with the kind permission of the ICCL and the Alliance. Download the publication in full from or Know Your Rights is a public information project of the ICCL designed to inform people in clear and accessible language about their rights under key areas of the law in Ireland."

In this section

As a child or young person, you have a right to equal treatment. Depending on your age and some legal restrictions, you also have the right to take part in the life of your community, in employment, and to make independent choices about matters that concern you.

In this section we explain some of these rights. We also give a table showing some of the things you can do at different ages.


What is equality?

Equality is about recognising that everyone has the same worth and should be treated with dignity. Sometimes people are treated badly or unfairly because of negative attitudes and stereotypes like racism. This type of treatment goes against the idea of equality and is known as discrimination. You have the right to be protected from discrimination at school, when you buy or sell something, when you use a service such as the bus, attend a youth or sports group, or when you are in employment.

Discrimination usually happens when you are treated differently or less favourably than someone else in the same situation and the reason why that happened is related to:

  • your gender: whether you identify yourself as a boy, a girl, or as transgender;
  • your marital or civil status: whether you are married or in a civil partnership;
  • your family status: whether you are pregnant, a parent of a child or the carer of someone with a disability;
  • your sexual orientation: whether you are heterosexual (straight), gay, lesbian or bisexual;
  • your religion, or lack of religious beliefs;
  • your age (this generally only applies to those over 18 years);
  • your disability;
  • your race, ethnic background,
  • nationality and colour;
  • your membership of the Traveller community.

These personal characteristics are known as ‘discrimination grounds’. You also have a right to be protected from harassment on these grounds. Harassment includes things like offensive comments and text messages or even physical things like pushing or hitting people.

What can I do if I feel I have been discriminated against?

You can contact the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) for information and guidance. The IHREC may be able to help you to make a case to the Equality Tribunal. The Tribunal will issue a legally binding decision which will try to fix your situation. In some cases, you may get compensation. You also may be able to make a complaint to the Ombudsman for Children.

What should I do if I feel that I have been the victim of a hate crime?

You have a right to be protected against threatening, abusive and insulting words and behaviour either to your face or in publications, displays and materials. If you think you have been a victim of this type of treatment, you can contact the Gardaí and report it as a crime.

It is an offence for anyone to physically threaten you, harass you, assault you or cause you serious harm for any reason. It is also an offence for someone to damage or threaten to damage your property. Again, you can report this to the Gardaí.

Community participation

At what age can I vote?

You have the right to vote from the age of 18. If you are an Irish citizen, you can vote in all elections and referenda. If you live in Ireland, but are not an Irish citizen, you have the right to vote in some elections. To vote, you must make sure that your name is on the Electoral Register. You can get an application form to have your name placed on the Electoral Register (list of people who can vote) from all local authorities, post offices and public libraries or on You must return your completed form to your local authority.

I’m under 18 – can I get involved in decision-making?

You can get involved in decision-making in your community. For example, Comhairle na nÓg are local youth councils that meet in every county. They give children and young people a chance to be involved in decision-making in matters that affect them. To find out how to get involved, see

Every two years, each Comhairle na nÓg sends representatives to Dáil na nÓg, the national parliament for children aged 12 to 18 years. This is a great opportunity to bring your concerns to politicians and other decision-makers.

You can also join local child and youth organisations to get involved in activities and make a difference in your local community. 

Am I allowed to hang around in my neighbourhood?

You have a right to hang out in your community but – just like adults – you are expected to act within the law. Neighbours have the right to complain if they find your behaviour disruptive. If the Gardaí are called, they can ask you to move away. You have the right to be treated with respect and if you are treated badly by the Gardaí, you can make a complaint to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

Do I have a right to enter leisure facilities, shops and shopping centres?

You have an equal right to adults to enter shops, shopping centres, leisure facilities or any other public place. The owner or manager has the right to refuse to let you enter if they are concerned about your behaviour. However, they cannot refuse to let you in on the grounds of discrimination.

Making choices: substances

Do I have a right to buy alcohol?

No. It is illegal for anyone under 18 to buy or to possess alcohol.

Do I have a right to buy cigarettes?

No. It is illegal for a shop to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18, even
if they are for someone else.

Do I have a right to take illegal drugs?

No. Neither adults nor children may take illegal drugs. See for information and support.

As well as it being against the law, drinking alcohol, smoking or taking illegal drugs can harm your health and place you in unsafe situations.

Making choices: sex

What is the legal age at which I can consent to have sex?

Legally, you can consent to sex at 17. This is the same irrespective of your sexual orientation – whether you are heterosexual, gay, lesbian or bisexual.


At what age can I work?

You can work part-time from the age of 14. You can work full-time from the age of 16. However, while you are under 18, there are limits to the amount of time you can work and the type of work you can do.

The rules are different if you work in your family’s business or if you work at sea. For more information about working under the age of 18, contact Citizens Information or the Workplace Relations Customer Services.

How many hours a week can I work?

At age 14 you can work outside the school term but not during it. You can work 35 hours a week during Christmas, Easter and summer school holidays and up to 40 hours a week if you are on approved work experience.

At 15 you can work 8 hours a week during the school term. You can work 35 hours a week during Christmas, Easter and summer school holidays and up to 40 hours a week if you are on approved work experience.

If you are 16 or 17, you can work up to 40 hours a week but you cannot work more than 8 hours each day.

Can I work in the evenings or at night?

If you are 14 or 15, you can only work between 8am and 8pm. You have the right to 14 hours off between shifts and two days off each week. Your two days off should be together where possible.

If you are 16 or 17, you can only work between 6am and 10pm. If you work in a pub or other licensed premises, you can work until 11pm if the next day is not a school day. You have the right to 12 hours off between shifts and two days off each week. Your two days off should be together where possible.

How much will I be paid if I work?

Under the age of 18 years, you are entitled to at least €6.06 an hour, but your employer can choose to pay you more. Depending on the practice in your workplace, you may be allowed to keep tips or they may be shared among all staff. There is no law to say that you have the right to keep them or that you have to give them to your employer.

Will I have to pay tax?

Yes. Everyone has to pay tax. The amount you pay will depend on the amount you earn.

Does my employer have any responsibilities to me as a young person in work?

Yes. Your employer must act within the terms set out by the Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act 1996. Your employer must give you a summary of your rights under this law as well as details of your terms of employment within one month of you starting the job. You are also entitled to a payslip.

Your employer must see a copy of your birth certificate or other proof of age before he or she employs you. If you are under 16, your employer must get your parent or guardian’s permission in writing.

Can I claim unemployment payments?

No. You can start paying social insurance from the age of 16, but you cannot claim unemployment payments until you are 18 years of age.

Can I complain if I feel that my employer is not treating me fairly (within the law)?

Yes, you can complain confidentially to the Workplace Relations Customer Services. For more information and services available, please see the Workplace Relations website,

Taking part in the online community

At what age can I join a social networking site?

This depends on the networking site. Different networking sites have different minimum ages.

What information should I post online?

Always be on your guard when communicating with anyone online. Any information you post on social media sites can remain in cyberspace forever. Be very careful about what private information you reveal (for instance, your age, real name or address). Do not add people as friends on social media sites unless you know them and never agree to meet face to face with anyone you have met online. Always tell an adult you trust if someone you met online is asking to meet with you.

How can I protect my identity and private information when online?

This depends on the internet site you are using and how you use it. If you are surfing the internet or using an online forum, your identity should stay anonymous. However, social media sites like Facebook that you sign up to or have to register for, are run on the basis that your identity is public.

To protect your identity, never use your full name when making up usernames for websites. Use the privacy settings on social media sites to restrict who can see your identity and the personal information that you put online. Also, be careful about what information you put online. It is almost impossible to remove information or photographs once they have been placed anywhere on the internet, even once.

If I am being bullied online, what should I do and who can I complain to?

The internet is a social space where people communicate, so bullying can take place on online forums and social media sites. It can also take place on mobile phones and because technology is everywhere, it can affect you anywhere, at any time, day or night.

If you feel that you are being bullied, there are a number of things you can do.

  • It is important to tell an adult you feel you can trust such as a parent, teacher or guidance counsellor if you are being bullied. If there is nobody around, you can call Childline on 1800 66 66 66 to talk to someone supportive or Teenline on 1800 833 634.
  • If the bullying is focusing on you being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, you can contact a support organisation such as BeLonG To (see
  • Don’t reply to bullying texts, emails or abusive postings on social media websites. Replying can often make the situation worse.
  • If possible, keep a record of the upsetting or hurtful messages (you don’t have to read them). If they are text messages, save them. If they are online postings or messages, take a screen shot or email them on to an adult you trust.
  • If the bullying is taking place over a mobile phone, tell your mobile operator, get a new sim card for your phone and keep your details private.
  • If someone bullies you online, you can use the privacy settings to make sure the bully cannot see your information or write comments to you. On Facebook, you can use the privacy settings to add friends to a restricted list so that you can control the information they see. Facebook does not notify your friends when you move them to this list. Facebook also allows you to completely block other users so that they cannot see your information or interact with you at all.
  • If someone leaves a hurtful comment, you can either remove it yourself or contact the site administrators and ask them to take it down immediately.
  • is a popular site which allows both named and anonymous users to post content. lets you turn off anonymous questions in your privacy options if you don’t wish to receive anonymous questions. This will help you to control some of the content you receive in your inbox. You can also report abuse by using the report button. If abuse has been reported, can supply identifying information to the police if necessary. See for more information.
  • If the bullying is persistent or someone makes racist or inappropriate sexual comments to you online, you can report this to the Gardaí or to
  • If someone you know tells you that they are being bullied online, it is important to tell an adult or someone you trust so that the bullying can be dealt with.

Where can I get more information about using the internet safely and responsibly?

The Irish Internet Hotline has advice and information for parents, guardians and young people about internet use ( In addition, Webwise (, the Irish Internet Safety Awareness Centre, has tools and tips to help you use the internet safely. You will find more details of these at the end of this guide.

At what age can I do various things?

Be recognised as a child

  • Be recognised and protected by law as a child. Minimum Age: Under 18 (unless you are or have been married)

Get involved

  • Join Comhairle na nÓg or Dáil na nÓg. Minimum Age: 12
  • Join a social networking site. Minimum Age: 13 for Facebook. Different networks have different minimum ages
  • Vote. Minimum Age: 18
  • Stand for local election. Minimum Age: 18
  • Sit on a jury. Minimum Age: 18

Be independent

  • Change my name. Minimum Age: Under 14, parents may do it on your behalf, 14-18 with parental consent
  • Leave home. Minimum Age: 16 with parental consent, 18 without parental consent
  • Have my own passport. Minimum Age: No minimum age but parental consent needed until 18
  • Sign a lease to rent accommodation. Minimum Age: 18
  • Leave state care. Minimum Age: 18
  • Get married. Minimum Age: 18 – in rare cases, you may be able to get a Court Exemption Order to allow you to get married if one or both of you are under 18
  • Make a will. Minimum Age: 18 (unless you are or have been married)

Finish school

  • Join Youthreach. Minimum Age: 15
  • Leave school. Minimum Age: 16 or until you have completed three years of secondary school
  • Get an apprenticeship. Minimum Age: 16, if your parent or guardian agrees


  • Get a part-time job.  Minimum Age: 14 (you may only work during school holidays and for a limited number of hours each week)
  • Get a full-time job. Minimum Age: 16

Make health decisions

  • Receive private medical advice from a doctor. Minimum Age: 16, but the doctor may tell your parent or guardian until you are 18
  • Get medical treatment (other than mental health treatment) without your parents’ or guardians’ permission. Minimum Age: 16
  • Get mental health treatment without your parents’ or guardians’ permission. Minimum Age: 18
  • Refuse medical treatment without your parents’ permission. Minimum Age: 18
  • Give blood. Minimum Age: 18

Be sexually active

  • Consent to sex. Minimum Age: 17


  • Drive a motorcycle, moped or tractor. Minimum Age: 16
  • Drive a car. Minimum Age: 17

Join the Army/Gardaí

  • Join the Reserve Defence Forces. Minimum Age: 17
  • Join An Garda Síochána or the Permanent Defence Forces. Minimum Age: 18

Be responsible for a crime

  • Be arrested on suspicion of committing a crime and brought to court. Minimum Age: 12 (or 10 for serious crimes)
  • Be sent to a Children’s Detention School. Minimum Age: 10 to 17
  • Be sent to prison. Minimum Age: 18 and over

Buy certain things

  • Own a dog. Minimum Age: 16
  • Buy a lot tery ticket or place a bet. Minimum Age: 18
  • Buy cigarettes. Minimum Age: 18
  • Buy alcohol. Minimum Age: 18
  • Have a standard current bank account. Minimum Age: 18
  • Be in a pub: Minimum Age: Under 15 – only in the company of a parent or guardian and between 10.30am (12.30pm on a Sunday) and 9.00pm. 15 to 18 – between 10.30am (12.30pm on Sundays) and 9.00pm

Access my records

  • Access education and health records. Minimum Age: 18 (while under 18, your parents may access your records on your behalf)

For some things, there is no minimum age limit set out in law. These include:

  • signing a petition,
  • taking a taxi by yourself,
  • getting a tattoo or body piercing,
  • staying home alone, and
  • babysitting.

Can my parents leave me at home alone?

The law does not state at what age your parents can leave you at home alone. It is up to your parents or guardian to decide. The amount of supervision you may need depends on: your age, maturity and ability to look after yourself; whether or not there are other adults nearby; and how often and for how long you are left alone.

Other laws or best practice guidelines apply in the case of young children and vulnerable young people. For example, a parent could be prosecuted for child neglect if they leave a young child at home alone or put a child into a situation which places their health or safety at risk.

Can I babysit at any age?

That’s up to your parents or guardian to decide. You must be mature enough to meet the needs of small children and to respond in the right way if there is an unexpected incident at the house, a fire or a stranger calls to the door. In the UK, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) recommends that babysitters should be at least 16 years of age.

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Published Feb­ru­ary 24th2015
Last updated June 22nd2018
Tags rights children's rights human rights
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