Traditionally the legal the legal age of adulthood was 21 but in the past 20-30 years most jurisdictions have lowered this age to 18. Article 1 of the Convention on the rights of the child (CROC) states that anyone under the age of 18 is child. Also the Children and young person’s (care and protection) Act 1998 (NSW) defines a ‘young person as someone aged between 16-18. These definitions are important because laws treat children and young people differently to adults. Before the late 19th century children committing criminal acts were treated in the same way as adult offenders. The concept of an age before which a person could not be held criminally responsible -doli incapax – did not exist, and children as young as seven were convicted of serious criminal offences. There were two significant events in the 1980s that advanced the rights of children and young people internationally and in common law countries.
The two events were the signature of the United Nations Convention on the rights of child (CROC) and the Gillick case. The Convention on the rights of the child (1989) sets out a comprehensive set of rights for all children and young people. These rights cover civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. The Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Health Authority (1985) was a House of Lords decision. The department of health and Social Security has distributed a flyer advising doctors that they could lawfully provide contraception and advice to persons under 16 years old without parents’ consent. The mother of 5 daughters brought and action against the health authority and the DHSS based on her belief that a child under 16 was too young to make such decision without parental consent.
The court of appeal allowed Mrs Gillick’s appeal and took the matter to the House of Lords with affirmed the appeal on the basis that 16 years old was capable of consent in medical matters provided that she has sufficient understanding and intelligence to understand fully what is proposed. In other worlds children have the rights and ability to make decisions to affect their lives and they can do so competently as long as they understand the implications of their decisions Children’s have the right to education and is compulsory for children aged 6-15 to attend school under the Education Act 1990(NSW) Under section 22 of this Act, parents must send their children to a government or non-government School registered with the NSW board of studies.
There is no minimum legal age limit for young workers according to the office of industrial relations in NSW however if they are under 15 they must receive authorisation from the NSW Department of Education and Training to leave school. Young people in workplace are covered by all the relevant workplace and safety legislation for workers in NSW. The High Court of Australia followed the decision in the Gillick case and stated that once a person has sufficient maturity and intelligence to understand what is proposed she or he is capable of consenting to medical treatment. Parents have the responsibility to seek proper medical cared for their children even if they have religious objections. The children and Young Persons (Care and protection) Act 1998 (NSW) section 174 authorise a medical Practitioner to carry out emergency treatment on a child or young persons without parental consents.
Young people do not have the right to leave their parents’ home before 18 however the law would not normally force young people over 16 to stay at home against their wishes. Children and young people are protected from discrimination on the basis of age by the Anti- Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW). This act also outlaws discrimination on the basis of sex, race, and sexuality. The Convention of the rights of the child (CROC) is a legal mechanism which has been important in putting the rights of children on the global agenda. Once a nation has signed and ratified a treaty the United Nations committee structure monitors and reports on the extent to which hat nation is complying with its international obligation, the committee’s limitation is that it has no coercive powers.
Another legal mechanism is the children’s court. Across NSW there are 13 children’s magistrates siting in seven specialists children’s court there also five children’s registrar appointed under the children’s court Act 1998(NSW) to assist in administration of matters before the court. Trade unions are organisations of workers who act together to maintain their rights to good working condition. The Australian council of trade unions (ACTU) provides information about pay and conditions, health and safety issues, apprentice- ships and training and negotiating employment contracts for young people entering the workforce for the first time. Trade unions are a Non-Legal mechanism for protecting rights of children and young people. The kids Helpline are just one of the many organisations from which children and young people in crisis can seek advice. It is a non-legal mechanism just like trade unions.
It offers 24hr free telephone and online counselling. If children and young people come into contact with the criminal justice system, it usually through interaction with a police officer when being arrested or questions about some matter. Seventy eight per cent of the 843 children and young people surveyed said that the police rarely treated young people with sufficient respect. It could be argued that children and young people l on the whole do not have good relationship with the police. Young people are frequently targeted for police intervention for lacking respect or simply for being young and out in the public. Children around the world are exploited and abused where the laws of their countries fail to offer protections to them.
There are approximately 250 million child labourers worldwide. In 2007 it was estimated there were as many as 300 000 children and young people involved in armed conflict with up to 100000 of these believed to be in Africa. In countries ravaged by war and famine children lack the protection normally afforded to them within the family. Very recently in Australia children sat in immigration detention centres having broken no laws, as a result of the previous federal governments’ punitive laws relating to asylum seekers.
In other countries minors are still being executed for the crimes they have committed The rights on children have come a long way. Australian legislation has established processes and institutions to recognise and protect the important role that children and young people play in out in our society. There is still cause for great concern about the exploitation and abuse of children internationally. The force of international law relies on the domestic measures taken to implement the rights contained in treaties such CROC and the pressure brought to bear by parties not only by treaty based human right committees.