Evolving capacity

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Evolving capacity is a concept used by international organizations such as the United Nations that recognizes minors, as individuals, gradually develop the ability to take full responsibility for their actions and decisions, including their ability to consent in important decisions involving themselves.

This is said to happen at a different pace for different young people. In practice, this means looking at the capacity of young people rather than their chronological age when trying to strike a balance between protection and autonomy.

Sexual rights

Under this model, it is necessary to approach young people’s sexual rights in a progressive way, respecting their diversities and ensuring they are both empowered to exercise rights on their own behalf, while also being protected and guided with their best interests in mind.[1]


The concept of evolving capacities is employed internationally as a direct alternative to popular concepts of child and youth development.[2]


The concept of evolving capacities of the child first emerged in international law through the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It stems from the recognition that childhood is not a single, fixed, universal experience and that their lives require different degrees of protection, provision, prevention, and participation at different stages of their lives.[3] Evolving capacities recognize that as children acquire enhanced competencies there is less need for protection and a greater possibility that they can take responsibility for decisions affecting their lives. It is presupposed by the gradualist conception of children's rights, which suggests that children move progressively from a situation in which their rights primarily protect their interests to one in which their rights primarily protect their choices.[4]


Evolving capacities are sometimes interpreted as supporting voluntarist/volantaryist and gradualist approaches to young peoples' rights, including more liberal consent laws, as applied to sexual rights.

Conservative criticism

The concept of evolving capacities is sometimes described by (mainly American) conspiracy conservatives and "radical" feminists as a ruse by international organizations to allow "pedophilia" to become "normalized".[5][6]


  1. Exclaim! - IPPF, 2011
  2. Lansdown, Gerison (2005). The Evolving Capacities of the Child. New York: UNICEF. pp. 6. ISBN 8889129158, and Lansdown, G. (2005) Understanding the implications of human rights treaty: evolving capacities of the child. UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre.
  3. Bueren, Geraldine Van; Europe, Council of (2007). Child Rights in Europe: Convergence and Divergence in Judicial Protection. Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing. p. 37. ISBN 9789287162694.
  4. Phillips, D.C. (2014). Encyclopedia of Educational Theory and Philosophy. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications. p. 126. ISBN 9781452230894.
  5. UN-backed report suggests minors may be able to consent to sex – critics accuse org of attempting to normalize pedophilia
  6. Opinion — Is the U.N. Promoting Paedophilia?