Effectiveness of the Legal System for Juvenile Offenders

Issue: Teenage pregnancy

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Teenage pregnancy is a contemporary social issue, especially in Australia, who ???is ranked by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development as having one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world.??? The perceived issue with teenage pregnancies is that teenagers are not emotionally and financially ready to raise children. The legal system has responded to this issue with the introduction of new legislation, and the introduction of community organisations.

Australia has a national and international duty to protect the rights of young people. Parents not fulfilling these responsibilities during their child??™s upbringing are a major factor for teenage pregnancies. As a result, the United Nations??™ Convention on the Rights of the Child (also known as CROC) was ratified in Australia in 1990 to ensure that the policies and laws passed by State and Federal Governments are in the best interests of the child. For example, Article 18 of the CROC states ???State Parties shall use their best efforts to ensure??¦ that both parents have common responsibilities for the upbringing and development of the child.??? This article has led to the introduction of further State legislation, including: the Children (Protection and Parental Responsibility) Act 1997 and the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998. The introduction of this legislation has acknowledged the safety of children and young people as paramount and the primary responsibility of children??™s and young people??™s upbringing lies with their parents or legal guardians. Following the introduction of such legislation, the number of teenage pregnancies has declined.

The Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 (NSW) was introduced by the State Parliament to legally protect children and young people, such as pregnant teenagers. This act mandates the Department of Community Services with the responsibility of protecting children and young people in NSW. DOCS provides a 24 hour state-wide Helpline to help those who are at risk of harm and intervene where there are concerns about their safety, welfare and in particular, lack of sufficient parental supervision.

However, DOCS have not been as effective in addressing this issue. For example, a 12 year old girl was living with her 15-year-old boyfriend, despite her father??™s pleas to DOCS and the girl will now be a Mother at 12. In the Daily Telegraph on June 16 2009, Police stated that ???they were unable to intervene because both children were under the age of consent???. DOCS also admitted their ???staff were working on more urgent cases ??¦but more intensive casework could have been done???.

Consequently, the State Government has allocated an extra $520 million to child protection in the 2009-10 State budget. However, we need to introduce further legislation to protect children and young people from pregnancies. Dubbo MP Dawn Fardell believes that ???many of these situations do come from??¦ parents who are struggling to look after themselves. In this case, the girl should have been taken from her mother and placed in a safer environment???. Therefore, Australia needs further legislation to prevent such cases from occurring because ???we are accountable to society for allowing this to happen.???

A long term implication for teenage mothers is not completing their secondary education. As a result, there are a range of community-based organisations that provide opportunities to young mothers, including the DALE Young Mothers Program. DALE commenced in 2000 to support teenage mothers in Newcastle and the Hunter. The Program delivers a flexible educational model for teenage mothers to continue their education in an alternative learning environment, and therefore, DALE has been an effective response in addressing this issue.

Overall, the legal system has been effective in addressing the issue of teenage pregnancy in Australia. By introducing community organisations and emphasising the parents??™ legal responsibility for the upbringing of their children, the teenage pregnancy rate has significantly decreased over the last three decades, with 55.5 births per 1000 teenagers in 1971, in comparison to 16 births per 1000 teenagers in 2005.

Bibliography

Books
Dally, K; Kelly, T; Milgate, P. & Webster, P. 2006, ???Cambridge Legal Studies: Preliminary??™, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne.

Fairfield, P. 2007, ???Easy Guide to Australian Law??™, New Holland Publishers Pty Ltd, Australia.

Newspaper Articles
Jones, G. 2009, ???Mother At 12??™, The Daily Telegraph, 16 June.

Masters, C. 2006, ???Teenage Pregnancy Crisis??™, The Daily Telegraph, 14 December. Viewed 8/7/09.
http://www.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/story/0,22049,20922141-5006009,00.html

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