It’s a situation faced by most parents at some point, you’ve got a young child asleep in the car, you’ve just filled up with petrol and you need to go inside and pay. OR your bub just fell asleep and you need to grab bread and milk. What SHOULD you do?
Find out what the law has to say about this tricky issue.
In Queensland, the criminal code, section 364a, under the title “Leaving a child under 12 unattended”, states:
A person who, having the lawful care or charge of a child under 12 years, leaves the child for an unreasonable time without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child during that time commits a misdemeanour. Maximum penalty — 3 years’ imprisonment.
Whether the time is unreasonable depends on all the relevant circumstances.
It’s been in Queensland’s criminal code for nearly a decade. Under the previous law parents could only be punished if their unattended child was injured or suffered neglect.
Laws vary in each state and territory:
In Victoria you’ll find “offence to leave child unattended” under section 494 of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005.
It says a person who has the control or charge of a child must not leave the child without making reasonable provision for the child’s supervision and care for a time which is unreasonable having regard to all the circumstances of the case.
The penalties for leaving a child unattended in a car in Victoria include:
A fine (currently $3,690), or;
A maximum of 6 months jail
In NSW, according to Family and Community Services, there is no actual law that states at what age children can be left alone, but the law is clear about the responsibility of parents to look after their children.
However, anyone who leaves any child or young person in a motor vehicle without proper supervision — potentially or actually causing emotional or physical harm — is guilty of an offence.
“Our advice to parents has always been never leave a child unattended in a car,” Steve Spalding, RACQ’s head of technical and safety policy, told ABC news.
“If you have to do errands or go into the servo or something like that, wherever possible, if it’s practical, make other arrangements to leave the child where they’re safer at home rather than putting them at risk of being unattended in a vehicle.”
How do you manage this tricky task?
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