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Unattended children – what is the “right” age?


A recent discussion over lunch lead to the topic of children and the “right” age to leave them unattended. To my surprise, the “right” age varied to a significant degree, depending on where the child was left unattended and for how long.

For some, the “right” age to leave a child in the car while you enter the service station to pay for the fuel might be 14. For others, and I’m directing this at those new parents out there, it may be any age! (Don’t wake a sleeping baby).

So what is the “right” age? Well, apparently the legislators in Queensland have decided that the cut off age is 12. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t leave a child under 12 unattended at all costs. Let me explain.

As you will see in the legislation below, it all comes down to what is “unreasonable”.

Section 364A of the Criminal Code 1899 states:

(1) 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.

Ok, so what is an unreasonable time? Is there any assistance from the legislation? Well, not really, as section 364A further states;

(2) Whether the time is unreasonable depends on all the relevant circumstances.

Ok, now we need to consider what the relevant circumstances might be. Here are a few I came up with:

  • Age of the child
  • Length of time unattended
  • Where the child was left unattended
    • In the home, car, back yard, local park
  • Was the child within view of the person?
  • Does the child need any special care or attention?
  • And most importantly – what is the potential risk to the child?
    • Ie – dehydrated, sunburnt, assaulted, perhaps even kidnapped

The maximum penalty for this offence is 3 years imprisonment. Yes, you could go to jail for leaving your child in the car unattended. This indicates the seriousness of the offence.

In saying that, it is usually only in the more serious cases involving permanent injuries or death, that a term of imprisonment will be considered.

Next time you are considering leaving your child unattended, please think carefully!

Image Credit – Alena Ozerova © 123RF.com

Written by Scott Casey on January 19, 2018

Scott sees every new file as a challenge to achieve the best result possible for his client, whether that be achieved by an early plea of guilty or a hard fought contested hearing or trial. He places the utmost importance on maintaining a high level of client contact to ensure that each and every client is kept up to date with the progress of their matter.


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