At what age can a parent leave their child unattended?
Many would argue that it all depends on where you leave your child, how old the child is and how long you leave the child unattended. Let’s consider a few scenarios.
Can you leave your sleeping baby in the car while you run into the service station to pay for your fuel?
Can you leave your ten-year-old at home while you quickly go to the shop to buy bread and milk?
Amongst your friends, you will soon realize that there is no consensus on what the “right” age is. Some may not leave their child alone at home till they are 14; others might argue that they don’t want to wake the toddler just to pay for fuel. If we can’t agree on a “right" age, maybe we should ask if there is a legal age that you may leave your child unattended?
What does the law say?
Section 364A of the Criminal Code 1899 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.
At first glance, it seems then that the legal age in Queensland is 12. Does this mean that you can never leave a child younger than 12 unattended? Apparently not, it seems to depend on what is an unreasonable time.
So does the law tell us what an unreasonable time is?
Not really. If you look at section 364A(2), it simply says: whether the time is unreasonable depends on all the relevant circumstances.
offense means that if you are charged with leaving your child unattended, the Court will consider all the circumstances to decide if you left your child unattended for an unreasonable time.
Circumstances that could be relevant
It is never easy to have a complete list of circumstances that will be relevant to a particular situation, but the following will certainly be relevant in most situations.
- The age of the child - is the child close to 12?
- How long was the child unattended for?
- Where did you leave the child unattended?
- At home?
- In the car?
- In the local park?
- In your backyard?
- Could you see the child?
- Does the child need special care or extra attention?
- What were the risk factors? This might be the most important consideration.
- Could the child dehydrate in the car?
- Was there a risk to the child’s personal safety?
- Could the child be kidnapped?
- Was there an open pool or river?
- Could the child call for help if needed?
If you offense of this offence, you can be sentenced to 3 years imprisonment. The Court will usually only impose imprisonment if the child suffered severe or permanent injuries, or in the event of death, but it remains a serious offence.
So next time you consider leaving your child unattended, consider all the circumstances and the risks - the risks to your child, and also the risk of you being charged with a criminal offence!
Disclaimer : This article provides basic information only and is not a substitute for a professional or legal advice. It is prudent to obtain legal advice from a family lawyer.