Most of us have memories of walking to school. It was a small step towards independence on the long journey toward becoming an adult. We had to prove to our parents that we were capable of crossing the street properly, that we knew what to do in the event of stranger danger, and that we could be trusted to actually go to school. Along the way in early spring, many of us dodged swooping magpies, and yet we survived having grown from the experience. That experience is denied to today’s children.
It may come as a surprise to many, but in Queensland children are now banned from walking to school unaccompanied. Section 364a of Queensland’s criminal code states under the title “Leaving a child under 12 unattended”:
- A person who, having the lawful care or charge of achild under 12 years, leaves the child for an unreasonable time without making reasonable provision for the supervision and careof the child during that time commits a misdemeanour. Maximum penalty – 3 years’ imprisonment.
- Whether the time is unreasonable depends on all the relevant circumstances.
The Queensland Police Service issued a warning to parents that, “Kids under 12 cannot walk or ride to school alone, there must be some level of supervision. Blatant disregard for this responsibility has already led to criminal charges against a parent in Miles (a small town west of Toowoomba) others could easily face prosecution.”
The Police Officer in Charge of Miles Police seems to have overstated how the law actually is applied, because the Queensland Police Service issued the below statement clarifying the circumstances of the case after the original notice was reported in the media. In practice the court would determine whether the period of time the child spent unsupervised was unreasonable. It’s unlikely that the court would consider a child walking 10 minutes on a route they are familiar to be unreasonable. However, this example demonstrates how vague laws can be overzealously enforced by the police service and one can never be sure how the courts will interpret a law. As LibertyWorks has asked in the past, “What’s reasonable?” Who should decide what’s reasonable? Most people would believe it’s a child’s parent who should decide what’s reasonable.
Decisions about child rearing should be left to parents. What is reasonable for one child or circumstance might be unreasonable for another. Parent’s are the best judge of what’s right for their children and the state hardly has a stellar record of raising children in its care. We all have different values and their is no one universal right way to raise a child. Far too often parental authority is being undermined by the state and the school system. Whether it be what lunch parents provide their children or the safe schools indoctrination program, it all adds up to an unwelcome intrusion on the rights of parents.
It is absolutely essential that the Queensland government reform the criminal code removing any risk that responsible parents who allow their children to walk to school unsupervised are not harassed by the police. The state cannot replace the family. The family is the bedrock of our society. For the last 40 years the state has continuously undermined the family unit and many would agree that the results have been disastrous. Laws such as this may seem minor, but they represent the continued intrusion by the state into family life.
Justin Campbell is the general manager of LibertyWorks Inc