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Resources :: Guide :: Vulnerable and risk sensitive participants :: Vulnerable participants :: Minors in research :: Minors unable to consent

Why Are Minors Unable to Consent?

Consent is a legal term.  In most states in the United States, an individual cannot consent for him or herself until he or she is 18.  For international studies, some cultures may accept that an individual may consent for him or herself at an earlier age, or may require parental consent past 18 years.  Thus the age in which one can consent to participate in a study is determined by the legal and cultural definition for consent in the jurisdiction of the study. In some situations there may be exceptions; for example a minor who is married may be “emancipated” from parental consent.  A minor who is a parent may be able to consent for his or her child but cannot consent for him or herself.  If a child does not have a parent or legally authorized representative and is a ward of the state, a state appointed representative can consent for the child.

Consent also requires an adult level of understanding. Often children, particularly young children, are unable to understand the full scope of the decision put before them. It is important that a parent/legally authorized representative be the primary person to give consent in order to act in the child’s best interests. However, don’t underestimate a child’s ability to understand and their capacity to make a decision to participate. Obtaining permission from the child through an assent form or similar process is an important part of the parent/child consent process. 

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