Children playing ball games, Roman artwork, 2nd century AD
Legally, the term "child" may refer to anyone below the age of majority or some other age limit. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines child as "a human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier". This is ratified by 192 of 194 member countries. The term "child" may also refer to someone below another legally defined age limit unconnected to the age of majority. In Singapore, for example, a "child" is legally defined as someone under the age of 14 under the "Children and Young Persons Act" whereas the age of majority is 21. In U.S. Immigration Law, a child refers to anyone who is under the age of 21.
Biologically, a child is generally anyone between birth and puberty. Some English definitions of the word child include the fetus (sometimes termed the unborn). In many cultures, a child is considered an adult after undergoing a rite of passage, which may or may not correspond to the time of puberty.
Children generally have fewer rights than adults and are classed as unable to make serious decisions, and legally must always be under the care of a responsible adult or child custody, whether their parents divorce or not. Recognition of childhood as a state different from adulthood began to emerge in the 16th and 17th centuries. Society began to relate to the child not as a miniature adult but as a person of a lower level of maturity needing adult protection, love and nurturing. This change can be traced in paintings: In the Middle Ages, children were portrayed in art as miniature adults with no childlike characteristics. In the 16th century, images of children began to acquire a distinct childlike appearance. From the late 17th century onwards, children were shown playing with toys and later literature for children also began to develop at this time.