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Sources & methodology

First published in 2002, At what age? included States Parties’ reports submitted to the Committee on the Rights of the Child between January 1997 and August 2002. In 2004 it was revised to include reports from August 2002 to January 2004 (this edition is available as a pdf here). The current analysis is an update of the previous findings, covering 18 years of monitoring (1993-2010). It therefore offers a timely occasion to assess whether or not the international children’s rights community has “come of age” with respect to its treatment of minors. 

In order to keep printing to a minimum and to be able to update it with ease, the three-part 2010 edition of At What Age? is a multi-media publication. When completed, a pdf of the introduction will be made available on these pages. A summary table, displaying the minimum ages in all reporting States for four different areas: leaving school, being employed, marrying and being accorded criminal responsibility, as well as the year of each country's most recent report, is already available here. The relevant excerpts from which this information has been taken are exclusively available online, on the country pages of the Right to Education website (under National law and policies on minimum ages). 
 
Reports and other sources have been reproduced faithfully, and where information has been omitted as it was judged irrelevant this is clearly indicated in the following manner: […]. For a fully authoritative record, readers are encouraged to make use of the original text, available on the website of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, following document symbols and paragraph references given for each report.
 
State reports are the primary source for this research, accounting for more than 98% of the information harvested. Where clear minimum ages were not included in these reports, the interaction between States Parties and the Committee was consulted through Summary Records, Written Replies, and Concluding Observations issued for the relevant monitoring session. The decision to rely mainly on States Parties’ reports was taken for two reasons. Firstly, these reports constitute public self-assessment by governments and are consequently an authoritative source, emanating directly from those empowered to make critical decisions on domestic policy, i.e. the prime duty bearers. This type of analysis therefore permits a range of actors to hold governments accountable for the standards which they themselves report under the CRC. Secondly, using the interaction between States and the Committee allows both inter-national comparison and a world-wide overview of the global direction of children’s rights implementation, as all States - except for Somalia and the US - are bound by the same process.
 
Whilst the reports of non-governmental organisations and UN agencies, as well as academic material or field work, would undoubtedly provide an important and insightful counterfoil to the sources used here, they have been omitted in the interests of uniformity. Not all reviews include alternative reports, nor do all States allow genuine NGO work and participation. Furthermore, examining only those countries for which additional reports are available would not do justice to the desire to develop inter-national comparison and global analysis. Ultimately, the rationale was to develop a methodology that could be applied universally.
 
That being said, it is important to explain that the applied research methodology did pose other challenges of interpretation. Comparing different ages across countries or even within the same country is a difficult task, and inferring a precise number from a general description is a dangerous exercise. Collecting, analysing and interpreting information from States Parties’ reports requires a great deal of care, thought and patience. Individual country reports are often more than one hundred pages long, and written by diverse parts of the government (seemingly not always in close consultation with one another). Moreover, within some national legal systems there are various recognised sources of law which frequently generate conflicting minimum ages, further complicating the task of distilling a single age from the information provided.
 
Another equally serious challenge relates to transparency and/or lack of information. Firstly, there is a danger that those countries with a more honest engagement with the reporting process might come off worse when compared with those which would misrepresent the degree of compliance, whether wilfully or not. Secondly, failure to report on a particular area is also difficult to interpret as it may indicate an indirect recognition of inconsistent practices (i.e. information on a specific age may at times not be included in an attempt to mask violations), a lacuna in domestic monitoring, or a simple oversight.
 
In order to maintain coherence, the following methodology has been followed uniformly to arrive at the interpretations presented in the summary table. Where no information is provided, this is indicated by a cross (X); where information is available but not sufficiently clear, or is self-contradictory, a question mark (?) is used. A star (*) indicates a proposed change in legislation, a division of competence in federal States, a particular exception or practice that begs closer scrutiny. Where the information comes from the Concluding Observations, Summary Records or Written Replies, a circle (°) is used. Otherwise, the information provided in the reports is translated into a precise number, or "no minimum" (or “not compulsory” in the case of education), for each specific case, according to the guiding criteria explained on each minimum age page (available in the grey menu bar to the top left of this page).