From Maisie Williams’ and Isaac Hempstead-Wright’s integral parts in Game of Thrones, to Quvenzhané Wallis’ star turn in Beasts of the Southern Wild (for which she earned the youngest Best Actress Oscar nomination on record), child and young performers are important elements in mainstream media across the world.

In the UK, the law to protect child performers dates back to the Children and Young Persons Act 1963 and the Children (Performances) Regulations 1968 (the 1968 Regulations). These established a system of performance licences for performers under the age of 16 in acting and other performance, paid sport and modelling roles. This includes foreign nationals performing in the UK and UK nationals performing abroad.

Licences are granted by the relevant local authority for any child to take part in a performance for which they are paid, and for unpaid performances if the child has given a performance for more than three days over the previous six months.

Even if a licence is not required, for example a one-off unpaid performance in the school holidays, the 1968 Regulations still require certain conditions to be met to ensure children’s safety and wellbeing are protected. Local authorities are supposed to be satisfied that children will not be overworked, their education will not suffer and that they will be safe and well-treated, before granting a licence.

The UK government has, after a number of consultations, retained this system, but made certain changes to better reflect the needs of the modern media industries, while maintaining effective protection of children. These are enshrined in the Children (Performances and Activities) (England) Regulations 2014 (the 2014 Regulations), which entered into force on 6 February 2015, replacing the 1968 Regulations. The 2014 Regulations are intended to clarify, simplify and speed up the system for issuing child performance licences.

Key Points of the New System A major facet of the update is the re-organisation of the licence requirements into a clear and simple form. Whereas the 1968 Regulations enforced two separate sets of conditions in relation to broadcast and non-broadcast performances, the 2014 Regulations remove this distinction. Instead, the 2014 Regulations set out basic conditions for all performances, with additional requirements for licensed performances.

New limits are imposed on the earliest and latest times a performer may be at a place of rehearsal or performance. These are 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. (depending on whether the child is under or over five years old). The 2014 Regulations also apply an updated, layered approach to the maximum time that performers may work within these limits, as laid out below:

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The basic requirements stipulate minimum breaks for performers and extra break requirements where they are taking part in multiple performances or rehearsals on the same day.

Additional conditions for licensed performances cover education, travel, night-work and chaperones. Specifically, the 2014 Regulations retain the stipulation that performers must not take part in performances or rehearsals on more than six consecutive days.

The 2014 Regulations also feature general provisions relating to applications, documentation requirements, the powers of a local authority to impose conditional licences, and requirements as to records. In particular, it is no longer required to present a medical certificate before a performance licence can be issued for certain types of performance.

It should be noted that these changes only apply to children resident in England. Similar changes have been enacted with respect to Scotland, as contained in the Children (Performances and Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2014, and will enter force on 20 February 2015. Wales is still subject to the 1968 Regulations and Northern Ireland should apply The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 and The Employment of Children Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1996, as amended in 2006.

Comment The 2014 Regulations streamline and clarify the requirements for children taking part in performances, rather than making fundamental changes. The aim is to make the system more uniform and more user-friendly, for both producers and children, while still maintaining the fundamental principle of the protection of children’s welfare.

Further information will be available in the form of non-statutory guidance on the 2014 Regulations, which the Department for Education is in the process of creating. No publication date for this has yet been announced.