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«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? ...»

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Common legal issues for young people Where to get more help and information  Centre for Adolescent Health – for free support and referral call  Child Protection Crisis Line – call 131 278 (open 24 hours, 7 days a week)  Child Protection Services, Department of Human Services – call 1300 664 977  Family Court – visit www.familycourt.gov.au  Gateway Reconnect – offers support for young people to reconnect with their families and communities. Free mediation and referral.

Call 9611 2411 or visit www.gatewayreconnect.org  Kids Helpline – 24-hour telephone and online counselling for children and young people. Call free on 1800 551 800 or visit www.kidshelp.com.au  Melbourne Youth Support Services at Frontyard Youth Services – call on 9614 3688 or visit www.frontyard.org  Ombudsman Victoria – for complaints about the Department of Human Services call 9613 6222 or visit www.ombudsman.vic.gov.au  Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages – visit www.justice.vic.gov.au and follow the Births, Deaths and Marriages links or call 1300 369 367

You might want a copy of our free booklet:

• You and family law: A short guide – information about applying for family violence intervention orders.

For copies call 9269 0223 or visit www.legalaid.vic.gov.au/publications


Being healthy means feeling physically and emotionally good. Looking after yourself, knowing your legal rights and where to go for help are steps in the right direction. The more information you have, the better able you are to make decisions about what happens to your body.

Can I choose my own doctor?

You have the right to choose your own doctor, someone you trust.

In most cases your doctor must keep the things you talk about confidential (not tell anyone else). You can say it’s okay to tell other people, like your parents or guardian. Ask your doctor if they have rules about confidentiality. If you don’t agree with the rules, choose another doctor.

There are some things your doctor must report, like some infectious illnesses, or when they think you’ve been abused or you’re at risk of harm.

See also ‘What happens if a child is being abused or neglected?’ on page 43.

Can I refuse medical treatment?

Except for immediate, life-threatening emergencies, a doctor must get your consent (agreement) for any medical treatment. If you’re under 18, it isn’t always clear how old you must be to consent to or refuse treatment, even if you already have a child of your own. These are the

general principles:

• minor medical treatment (like treatment for colds or acne) – Health if you’re mature enough to understand what the treatment is about, you have the right to say yes or no Am I old enough?

Common legal issues for young people • more-complicated treatment (like abortion and contraceptive advice) – you may still have the right to say yes without your parent’s or guardian’s consent (agreement). The doctor has to be satisfied that you understand the treatment and its consequences. The doctor must also believe that the treatment is in your best interests.

• some ‘non-therapeutic’ treatments (not involving illness, like sterilisation or gender-changing operations) – these may not be legal without court approval, even if you and your parents or guardian consent (agree) • complex treatment (like treatment of eating disorders and other mental illness, or refusal of a blood transfusion on religious grounds) – you might not have the right to refuse such treatment, even if you fully understand the treatment and its consequences.

If you refuse medical treatment but the doctor thinks you’re not well enough to understand what you’re refusing, the doctor may request for you to be given the treatment without your agreement.

Some medical procedures done for cultural reasons, like clitoridectomy (female circumcision), are illegal. There are heavy penalties for them.

Your parents or guardian can only say yes or no to medical treatment on your behalf if you’re not mature enough to make your own decisions. In this case the decision must be made in your best interests.

If you, your parents or guardian and your doctor disagree about treatment, a court will need to decide what will happen. The court must consider what’s in your best interests. You can get legal help, see page 83.

When can I get my own Medicare card?

You’ll need to think about how you’ll pay for your medical treatment.

Some doctors ‘bulk bill’ under the government health system called Medicare. This means you won’t have to pay. In other cases you have to pay but the government will refund you some of the money.

You need to show your Medicare card or your parents’ Medicare card when you go to the doctor. If you’re over 15 you can apply for your own Medicare card. If you’re under 15 you need to use your parents’ card. If you’re 14 or older, Medicare won’t give information about your treatment to your parents. However, if you use your parents’ card they may find out themselves that you went to a doctor.

Do I need my parents’ permission to get contraception?

If you’re under 18 you may be able to get contraception, like the pill, from a doctor. This depends on whether the doctor thinks you’re mature enough to understand what you’re doing and to use the contraception properly. Make sure you know your doctor’s rules about confidentiality.

You can buy condoms at any age – there are no restrictions. Most chemists and supermarkets sell them.

Girls: What are my options if I’m pregnant?

It’s important to know you have options. There are people you can talk to. A counsellor, nurse or doctor can help you think through your choices.

These can include:

• going ahead with the pregnancy and keeping the baby • going ahead with the pregnancy and adopting out the baby • having an abortion.

Medical and health professionals shouldn’t judge your situation.

Your decisions should be private. If you’re not happy with the medical or health professional you’re talking to, you can get a second opinion or make a complaint.

See also ‘Where to get more help and information’ on page 51.

There’s no minimum age for keeping your baby. What matters is your ability to support yourself and the baby, and to make sure the baby is Health safe. If you’re under 16 and someone’s worried about your welfare or your baby’s, that person may call the Department of Human Services, see 'What happens if a child is being abused or neglected?' on page 43.

Am I old enough?

Common legal issues for young people Boys: What are my responsibilities if I get a girl pregnant?

You’re legally responsible for financially supporting the child. It doesn’t matter how young you are. If you can’t support the child because you’re still at school and don’t earn any money, you may have to pay later when you can afford to.

If you’re proved to be the father, you have to make child support payments until the child is 18.

Are there age limits for getting an abortion?

There’s no age limit on getting an abortion. You may be able to get an abortion without your parent’s or guardian’s consent if the doctor thinks that you’re mature enough to understand what you’re doing.

If you’re thinking about having an abortion, get advice from a doctor or Family Planning Victoria early in your pregnancy. Most abortions are performed in the first twelve weeks of a pregnancy. You can still have an abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy but there’s a lot to think about.

Abortion is legal in Victoria after 24 weeks in some circumstances but it is rare that an abortion would be performed this late.

See ‘Where to get more help and information’ on page 51.

Am I old enough to use a sun-tanning unit?

The law says that if you’re under 16 or if you have fair skin that burns not tans, you can’t use sun beds (ultraviolet sun-tanning equipment).

If you’re 16 or 17, you must have your parent’s or guardian’s consent.

The government can fine a business a large amount of money if they ignore this law.

Am I old enough to get a tattoo?

You can’t have anyone tattoo you or perform scarification, beading, branding and tongue splitting on you before you’re 18, unless it’s for medical purposes.

Am I old enough to get a body piercing?

If you’re under 16 you must have permission from your parents or guardian to let someone to pierce your ears, or any part of your body.

It's illegal for people under 18 to get a piercing in an ‘intimate area’, such as genital and nipple studs and rings.

Where to get more help and information  Family Planning Victoria For information for young people visit www.sexlife.net.au/young-people  For free and confidential information about sexuality, pregnancy, sex, contraception, family counselling, sexually transmitted infections, call the Action Centre on 9660 4700 or 1800 013 952 (country callers)  Centre for Adolescent Health – for free support and referral call 9345 5890  Department of Health – for information about having a baby, visit www.health.vic.gov.au/maternity  Health Services Commissioner complaints and information –

call 8601 5200 or 1800 136 066 (country callers). Call this service if:

- you haven’t been treated well by your doctor, a hospital or any health service, like a dentist, physiotherapist or pharmacist

- a health professional hasn’t treated your privacy respectfully

- you’ve had trouble getting your health information  Medicare – call 132 011 or visit www.medicareaustralia.com.au  Office of the Public Advocate – visit www.publicadvocate.vic.gov.au and follow ‘Medical Consent’ link  Somazone – health information for young people, visit www.somazone.com.au  Youth Central – visit www.youthcentral.vic.gov.au and follow ‘Health & Relationships’ link

You might want a copy of our free booklet:

• Child support and parentage testing Health For copies call 9269 0223 or visit www.legalaid.vic.gov.au/publications What happens ‘out there’ in everyday life is hard to predict. Have you had problems with security guards, drugs, weapons, fights or alcohol?

You might think it won’t happen to you but it helps to be prepared and know your rights.

Cigarettes No-one is allowed to sell you cigarettes or tobacco, buy cigarettes or tobacco for you, or let you buy cigarettes or tobacco from a machine on their premises if you’re under 18. It isn’t against the law to smoke or carry cigarettes or tobacco if you’re under 18 but if you’re a student, this could be a reason for your school to suspend you.


You can’t drink, buy or possess alcohol until you’re 18, unless:

• you’re in a private home – your house or someone else’s house and your parent or guardian has given permission • you’re in a hotel or restaurant and you’re having a meal with your parents, guardian or spouse (who is 18 or older). You can only go into licensed premises (like a pub or club that sells alcohol) if you’re with your parents, guardian or spouse and you’re having a meal there or you’re staying the night.

If you leave the private home or the licensed premises, and you take your drink with you, you’ll be committing the offence of underage drinking in public. The person who gave you alcohol could be fined by the police for supplying alcohol to a minor.

Alcohol affects your judgment and behaviour. You might end up doing things you wouldn’t do if you were sober. There’s a higher chance you could end up in trouble – committing minor offences like using indecent language right up to serious assaults. It doesn’t matter whether this happens somewhere private or licensed, or in public.

The police or a staff member can ask for your name and address if you buy or have alcohol. They can take alcohol away from you if you’re under 18 and if they think it’s illegal for you to have it. In some public places, like at a festival or some music events, it’s illegal to carry or drink alcohol no matter how old you are. Your school may also suspend you if you have alcohol at school.

Remember, if you’re on L-plates or P-plates, you’re not allowed to drive if you’ve had any alcoholic drinks.

Parties It’s a good idea to plan carefully before you have a party. Think about how big the party will be and who you want to invite. Gatecrashers can sometimes cause things to get out of hand. The police could hold you or your parents responsible if someone is injured while they’re at your house. This may be more likely to happen if your guests are drunk.

The police could also charge you with making a public nuisance if the party gets out of hand.

There are restrictions on when you can play loud music or make a lot of noise. The law restricts noise from musical equipment after 10 pm on weeknights (Sunday to Thursday) and after 11 pm (Friday and Saturday). Let your neighbours know a week or more before you have a party. They may understand if there’s a little more noise than usual.

–  –  –

There are many laws about illegal drugs. The four most common drug-related laws are about using, possessing, trafficking and cultivating a ‘drug of dependence’.

Am I old enough?

Common legal issues for young people Using This includes smoking, inhaling fumes, injecting or swallowing a drug.

The police can charge you if you admit to using. The police can also charge you with ‘introducing a drug into the body of another person’ if you inject someone else or slip a drug into someone’s drink without their knowledge.

Possessing This means having a drug on you (like in your pockets or bag) or in a house or place where you live. This includes cannabis plants. The police might also charge you with possession if they find drugs in a car you own or a car you’re driving. It is also illegal to sell, display or supply bongs in Victoria.

Trafficking This usually means selling a drug but it can include exchanging, agreeing to sell or offering drugs for sale (even if you don’t go through

with the deal). The police can also charge you with trafficking if you:

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