«May 2012 Am I old enough? Common legal issues for young people This booklet covers what you can and can’t do because of your age Am I old enough? ...»
Am I old enough?
Common legal issues for young people
This booklet covers
what you can and can’t
do because of your age
Am I old enough?
Common legal issues for young people
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Produced by Victoria Legal Aid
Victoria Legal Aid
350 Queen St
Melbourne VIC 3000
Telephone 9269 0120 or country callers 1800 677 402
www.legalaid.vic.gov.au First published 1999 Twenty-first edition May 2012 Acknowledgements: Thanks to the input on this edition and previous editions from Youthlaw, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, Department of Innovation, Industry & Regional Development, Department of Human Services, Workforce Victoria, Kyneton police station, Jobwatch, North Yarra Community Health, and Victoria Police.
© 2012 Victoria Legal Aid. Reproduction without express written permission is prohibited. Permission may be granted to community organisations to reproduce, free of any charge, part or all of this publication. Written requests should be directed to the Community Legal Education Manager, Victoria Legal Aid.
Disclaimer: The material in this publication is intended as a general guide only.
Readers should not act on the basis of any material in this publication without getting legal advice about their own particular situations. Victoria Legal Aid expressly disclaims any liability howsoever caused to any person in respect of any action taken in reliance on the contents of this publication.
ISBN 978 1 921949 00 5 Printed on recycled paper consisting of 60% post consumer waste and 40% certified fibre from controlled wood sources.
Contents About this booklet 1 What do these words mean? 2 Your life, your rights 3 School 7 Becoming independent 15 Relationships 34 Family 42 Health 47 Out there 52 Buying things 61 Police, bouncers and transport inspectors 66 Courts and tribunals 81 Where to get help 83 Changes to the law
The law changes all the time. To check for changes you can:
• call Victoria Legal Aid’s Legal Help ser
www.legalaid.vic.gov.au/newlaw.htm • contact a community legal centre. Call the Federation of Community Legal Centres on 9652 1500 to find your nearest community legal centre.
Am I old enough?
Common legal issues for young people Victoria Legal Aid We are a state-wide organisation that helps people with their legal problems. We focus on helping and protecting the rights of socially and economically disadvantaged Victorians.
We have lawyers in offices in most major metropolitan and country regions. We also fund private lawyers to provide legal services to the public.
We can help you with your legal problems about criminal matters, family breakdown, family violence, child support, immigration, social security, mental health, debt and traffic offences.
Call us to find out how we can help you on 9269 0120 or 1800 677 402 (country callers).
About this booklet This booklet is about common legal issues for young people in Victoria.
It covers what you can and can’t do in Victoria because of your age.
It has general information. It shouldn’t be used instead of legal advice.
The law can be different in other states. To check, see www.nla.aust.net.au for contact details of legal aid commissions around Australia.
Getting more help If you have a legal problem, you have the right to speak to a lawyer, so contact Victoria Legal Aid, Youthlaw or a community legal centre.
You can get free legal advice and you may be able to get a lawyer to help you free of charge.
These organisations and others are listed at the end of most chapters in this booklet, as well as in the ‘Where to get help’ chapter on page 83.
bullying – something done on purpose against a person or group of people to upset or hurt them or damage their property, reputation or acceptance by others consent – agree contract – an agreement between two parties which the law says must be carried out cyber bullying – the use of the internet or mobile phones to upset, hurt or damage the reputation of a person or a group of people on purpose evidence – information used in court to prove something independent person – an adult who must be with you during police questioning when you are under 18 and your parents or guardian cannot be there intervention order – a court order to protect you from family violence or stalking sexting – the sharing of sexually explicit messages or photographs (nude or semi-nude pictures) electronically, most commonly through mobile phones and social networking sites sexual assault – behaviour of a sexual nature that makes you feel uncomfortable, frightened or intimidated Will – a legal document setting out who gets part or all of a person’s estate when they die
Your life, your rights
You have rights, regardless of your age. Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which sets out the rights of
people under 18, you have the right to:
• be free from sexual and economic exploitation
• your own opinion
• education, health care and economic opportunity.
You also have rights and responsibilities under Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. The Victorian Government and its agencies must consider these rights when they make laws and provide services. For more information about the charter contact the Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission, see page 6.
Your right to see a lawyer No matter how old you are, you have the right to see a lawyer if you think you have a legal problem or you need legal advice. A lawyer will listen to you and give advice about the best way to handle things.
It’s up to you whether you take that advice or not.
You can get free legal advice from a lawyer at Victoria Legal Aid, Youthlaw or a community legal centre. See ‘Where to get help’ on page 83. You may be able to get a lawyer to give you ongoing help.
Your life, your rights This can include help with writing letters or help with going to court.
If you have to go to the Children’s Court, a lawyer may be able to go with you and speak on your behalf. Try to see a lawyer before going to court. A lawyer’s job is to help you present your case in the best way.
The lawyer isn’t in charge of how you run your case. You are.
Am I old enough? Common legal issues for young people
The information you give the lawyer is confidential. They can’t tell anyone else (like the police or your parents) about your situation unless you say it’s okay.
A lawyer who acts as an independent children’s lawyer in the family law courts has a different role. An independent children’s lawyer has to tell the court what is best for a child. The lawyer will listen to what the child says, but may not always do what the child wants. See ‘What does an independent children’s lawyer do?’ on page 43.
What is discrimination?
Discrimination means being treated unfairly or not as well as others because of a characteristic like age, gender, race or marital status (whether you’re married or not). The law says that it is wrong to discriminate against someone on these grounds in certain areas of public life. It shouldn’t matter what your sex, race, marital status, religion, sexuality or gender identity is or what physical features, disability or political views you have.
When is discrimination against the law?
Discrimination, including sexual harassment, is against the law if it happens at school, at work, in accommodation (for example, staying at a hostel), during sporting activities, in local government, at public or publicly funded clubs and community organisations, or when you receive goods or services. For example, it’s illegal to refuse to serve someone because of their race or for a landlord or real estate agent not to rent a house to a couple because they’re unmarried. It’s also illegal for someone to discriminate against you because you’re friends with someone who has a characteristic that’s protected by the law (for example, a disability or certain religious views).
It’s also illegal to vilify (spread negative information about) someone because of their racial or religious background. Vilification includes things like racist graffiti.
Sometimes discrimination may not be unlawful. For example, when a character makes racist comments in a play. But even in these situations the character’s behaviour has to be reasonable – the comments must fit the situation and be made ‘in good faith’ (honestly and sincerely).
What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is when someone behaves in a sexual way that
offends, humiliates or intimidates you. It can include things like:
• telling dirty jokes • staring and leering • someone making comments about another person’s sexual behaviour • offensive pictures, emails or text messages • someone touching, pinching or brushing up against another person unnecessarily • someone kissing or hugging another person when they didn’t say yes to it.
It’s also sexual harassment if you agree to someone behaving sexually towards you because you were scared or pushed into it. Sexual harassment can happen anywhere, for example at work, at school, or when helping out with a local sporting event. Sexual harassment is against the law, and if the person’s behaviour is serious then the police could charge that person with a criminal offence – this means it could go to court. So if you are in this situation, get help. See ‘Where to get help’ on page 83.
See also ‘What is incest?’ (page 38), ‘How do I know if I’ve been Your life, your rights sexually assaulted?’ (page 38), ‘Violence and sexual assault’ (page 37), ‘What happens if a child is being abused or neglected?’ (page 43).
What is not sexual harassment?
It isn’t sexual harassment if both people agree to the sexual behaviour.
None of this stops you developing friendships, sexual or otherwise, with people your age.
Am I old enough?
Common legal issues for young people Where to get more help and information Australian Human Rights Commission – call 1300 656 419 or visit www.humanrights.gov.au Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA) – call the counselling line on 9635 3610 or the Sexual Assault Crisis Line on 1800 806 292 (free call, open 24 hours). Visit www.casa.org.au Fair Work Ombudsman – call 131 394 or visit www.fairwork.gov.au Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission – call 1300 292 153 or 1300 289 621 (TTY).
Visit www.humanrightscommission.vic.gov.au Victoria Legal Aid Legal Help – call 9269 0120 or 1800 677 402 (country callers), Monday to Friday, 8.45 am to 5.15 pm School This section looks at leaving school before you’re 17 and what happens if you’re suspended or expelled from your school. There may be different rules for state and private schools. This section also explains what bullying is and how to deal with it.
Am I old enough to leave school?
You have to go to school until you have completed Year 10. After that you can leave school as long as you do at least 25 hours per week in education, training, employment or a combination of these things, until you turn 17.
Most young people stay on at school until 17, to do the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE), the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL), or Vocational Education and Training (VET) subjects.
If you don’t do these things, you can study somewhere else (like a TAFE) or get an apprenticeship or a full-time job instead. Anyone aged between 15 and 19 can apply to go to TAFE a or Registered Training Organisation to continue their education.
Before finishing Year 10, you can stop going to school for reasons like:
• your parents or guardian are giving you proper and regular lessons at home • there’s no state school within five kilometres and you’re learning by correspondence • you’re very ill or unable to get to school • the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development School has said you don’t have to go for some other reason – for example, you’re completing your education in another program out of school, or you have to leave school to work because your parents are very ill or suffering severe hardship.
Am I old enough?
Common legal issues for young people If you want to leave school before finishing Year 10 you need approval from the department. Ask your school about this or contact the education department (see page 14) to find out the name of their regional director in your area.
What happens if I am suspended from school?
Suspension is when the principal doesn’t let you go to school for a short time.
Suspension is normally only used when the school has tried other ways of sorting out the problem but these things haven’t worked.
You can be suspended if, while you’re at school, or travelling to or from
• create a danger to people at school • use serious violence against people • seriously damage property • steal or help others steal • sell, use or bring drugs, alcohol or cigarettes to school • disobey clear and reasonable instructions from school staff • disturb order at school or stop others from learning or taking part in school life • discriminate against, harass or bully other people.
See also ‘What is discrimination?’ on page 4, ‘What is bullying?’ on page 11.
The principal should let you explain your side of the story and consider other penalties before suspending you. They must also meet with your parents or guardian to talk about the situation and explain what happens if they suspend you. You can take a support person to the meeting if the principal agrees.
The principal can suspend you immediately if they think this is necessary.
The principal can’t suspend you for more than five school days at a time. You can’t be suspended for more than 15 school days in a year.
You can still do school work while you’re suspended. The school must give you work.