Youth and the Law

In New Zealand we have laws stating the level of supervision required for children under 14. Should be really simple shouldn’t it?

Take today’s dilemma.
Miss 7 comes in at 5am with a sore stomach, by school time she’s been sick 3 times. No school for her today. Dad is out at a meeting. Neighbour’s nanny agrees to walk the 5 year old to school.

But… if the nanny hadn’t been available or obliging what were my choices?

  • take the 7 year old to school – but she’s sick
  • leave her at home while I take the 5 year old to school – but she’s under 14
  • let the 5 year old tackle the walk alone – but there are roads to cross and he’s under 14

Another dilemma

No bread for lunches. There is a dairy on our block so the kids can go there without crossing roads. Still have to watch for people backing out of driveways etc but generally safe in a quiet neighbourhood. So, we figure it’s ok to let them walk to the dairy to buy a loaf of bread, etc and they like doing it. But on cold, wet days when you can’t bribe them to do anything at all it’s not ok to leave them snug at home while I walk to the dairy?

Now, we all know that the law only counts if you get caught and the police in New Zealand are having a hard enough time coping with rapists and burglars – if the example set by the beleaguered Papakura station is anything to go by. Even so I thought I’d look online for some guidelines and found heaps about what to do if a teenager is arrested but nothing for parents. This booklet at $44 Youth and the law looks hopeful but $44 isn’t accessible to the average parent who has got most things right.

So I picked up the phone.

  • CYFS said it wasn’t for them to interpret the law and to talk to a parenting organisation – umm, I thought CYFS was there to support families, which normally means the parents too!
    I then emailed them

    Child, Youth and Family is unable to give legal advice to members of the public. However, if you contact either a Citizen’s Advice Bureau or Youth Law, they will be able to give you the right information.

    I hope this helps.

    Jenny Alexander
    National Media Advisor
    Child, Youth and Family Services

  • I rang the Plunket Line but it’s so underfunded that there are never enough nurses on to answer the phone. You feel guilty for calling them with anything trivial.
    Their email response:

    This issue relates to older children and since Plunket is concerned with under five year olds, it falls outside our area of expertise. It would be appropriate if you could talk to someone who knows the particular act to look up, perhaps the police youth aid section would be more helpful.

  • I rang the Citizens Advice Bureau and they said to ring CYFS or WINZ
  • I rang WINZ who were somewhat perplexed at how a work and income agency could help with an obvious parenting issue
  • I tried the Police website but nothing obvious there. I filled in the contact form and their reply was

    Thank You for your message to Police.
    Your best source of reference is to the Child, Youth & Family Service agency or CYFS as they are more commonly known.

  • I’ve emailed the Parenting with Confidence people but not really their area…

It’s not a biggie but as a parent it’s something we are faced with every day. We have our own fears for our children’s safety but we also have nanny state saying that until they are 14 they have to be under lock and key. We know that’s nonsense but there’s nothing official leading the way.


Recent Comments



  1. April 8, 2005

    Talked to a woman today at the NZ Families Commission who pointed me towards the Public Access to Legislation project run by our Government – including the:

    which is all good stuff but nowhere do I see the magical 14 years old cutoff being discussed – except in relation to crimes committed by the child. Nothing about neglect by the parent. Maybe I need to read more thoroughly but it’s late, I’ve been at work all day and right now I just need to cuddle my boy.

  2. April 21, 2005

    I heard today from youth law. A very sane response – and some info!

    Kia ora Sarah,

    Thanks for your email, and apologies for the somewhat tardy reply.

    First off, good question! I’ll let you know what I’ve managed to find out in this regard:

    Under s 154. of the Crimes Act 1961 it is a serious criminal offence for anyone to unlawfully abandon a child under the age of 6 years old. I think common sense would dictate that a trip to the dairy, sans child, would not constitute unlawful abandonment (unless of course you never returned).

    Under s 10A of the Summary Offences Act 1981 people can be liable for a term of imprisonment not exceeding 6 months or a max. fine of $4000 for ill-treating or willfully neglecting a child lawfully entrusted to their care. Here also it is unlikely that simply making a trip to the shop without a child would constitute willful neglect (unless it formed part of a more general pattern of neglect).

    The more relevant provision is s 10B of the Summary Offences Act 1981 which states that

    “Every person is liable to a fine not exceeding [[$2000]] who, being a parent … under the age of 14 years, leaves that child, without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child, for a time that is unreasonable or under conditions that are unreasonable having regard to all the circumstances. ”

    You can see that the amount of time and the conditions and circumstances in which the children are left alone is relevant to whether reasonable provision for supervision and care has been made. Also relevant are: the state of the home (e.g. whether there are exposed electrical wires, matches lying around etc), the ages and abilities of the supervising children (if any are left in charge of the others), the availability of others to be called to assist, known dangers in the area, and the length of time of parent’s absence (Police v Heke, 3 March 1995, District Court, Hamilton, Judge Wolff).

    I hope that this information sheds some light on the issue for you Sarah.


    Deborah Lawson
    YouthLaw Tino Rangatiratanga Taitamariki

  3. November 27, 2007

    It seems anyplace you have government you have way too much law, the bulk of it irrelevant and seeminglky only in place to appear to justify the existence and purpose of the lawmakers themselves.
    Galileo complained that the wrong people were in charge; it seems they still are. I blame those who put them there, myself.


  4. November 28, 2007

    Still, atleast we can still name our teddy bears without risk of Government involvement!

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