As women from different African countries and cultural backgrounds, one of the challenges we had was identifying who needed safeguarding. When we use the term, ‘child protection’, which some of us may be more familiar with, we exclude other vulnerable people, and also open ourselves up to debate on who is or isn’t an adult. 

As we know, children may ‘come of age’ at different times, depending on our laws and traditions. They may gain rights – such as marriage – at very different ages, whilst the international understanding of the end of childhood is turning 18. We know that in our countries many children take on adult responsibilities – such as earning money to meet their own needs and that of their families, caring for other children or undertaking other chores, at young ages. We know that vulnerability doesn’t end overnight, just by turning 18, or another age that we might choose to indicate adulthood. 

What this means, we understood, is that we must recognise the vulnerability in all the women and girls we work with. 


The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as any person under the age of 18 years. UNSRC

Note: Countries may define children and the age of consent differently. 

Vulnerable adult

A person over the age of 18 who is or may be in need of community care services by reason of mental health problems, learning disability, physical disability, age or illness who, as a result, may find it difficult to protect him or herself from harm or abuse. Protecting Adults at Risk: London Multi Agency Policy & Procedures, SCIE Report 39 2011

Child Abuse or ‘maltreatment’ constitutes all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power. Report on the Consultation on Child Abuse Prevention, WHO, 1999

Adult Abuse is mistreatment by any other person or persons that violates a person’s human and civil rights. The abuse can vary, from treating someone with disrespect in a way that significantly affects the person’s quality of life, to causing actual physical or mental suffering. People with care and support needs are more likely to be abused or neglected. Lumos Foundation, 2018

Reflection Questions: 

  • At what age is someone recognised as an adult in your state or country?
  • At what age or stage is someone recognised as an adult in your culture?

Our Latest Posts:

Spread the love