When is it OK for your child to walk to and from school alone? That's a judgment call every parent has to make based on various factors: the child's age and maturity, the distance to school and the potential risks involved.
Most of us would use common sense to work out whether or not it’s a wise idea. But that right has been taken away from parents in a rural Queensland town, who have been threatened with serious consequences if they fail to take "reasonable steps to ensure children under 12 are properly supervised." This includes kids who are allowed to walk or ride a bike to school on their own.
And they aren't just empty threats. Police from Miles (200 kilometres west of Toowoomba) have already fined a parent for breaking the rule. There’s even the chance of incarceration: Parents can face up to three years in jail if found guilty of the offence.
A police flyer distributed throughout the community quotes section 364A of the Queensland Criminal Code, which says: "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. Maximum Penalty — 3 years imprisonment." The flyer also confirms that "blatant disregard for [their] responsibility has already led to criminal changes against a parent in Miles and other could easily face prosecution."
The police took this extreme step after being shocked at the number of students under 12 walking or riding to school unsupervised at the beginning of the current school term.
It's great that the police are concerned about children's safety, but surely punishing their parents for letting them walk to school alone isn't the best use of their time and resources? If they're worried about specific risks, their attention should be focused on eliminating those risks, not penalising decent people who are trying to do the right thing by their kids.
Of course there are risks out there. Nobody wants their child to come to any harm. But this nanny state mentality doesn't actually stop bad things from happening. It simply instils fear in families and takes freedom and independence away from our children.
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