We’ve all been there.
You just need to grab something from the supermarket but you don’t want to bring your child into the store with you. Perhaps they’re sleeping or you just don’t want to disturb them. No matter the reason, there is always the temptation to leave your child in the car while you quickly go to the shops.
Or perhaps your children are at home and you need to go somewhere for a short time. Instead of dragging everyone into the car just for a short drive, you might be tempted to tell your children that you’re just leaving the house for a minute and not to get into any trouble while you’re away.
But could you actually be committing a criminal offence by leaving your child unattended, even just for a very short period of time?
Read on to find out more.
The Laws In Queensland
Section 364A of the Criminal Code states that it is an offence in Queensland to leave a child under the age of 12 unattended for an “unreasonable time” without making provision for their supervision and care.
The maximum penalty for committing an offence against this section is three years imprisonment.
So in Queensland, it is clear that parents (or anyone who has the lawful care or charge) of a child under 12 years of age must not leave that child unattended unless suitable arrangements have been made for their care.
The law does, however, also refer to the term “unreasonable time” and it’s necessary to look at what this means.
What Is a “Reasonable Time”?
The laws in Queensland state that you cannot leave a child under 12 unattended for an “unreasonable time”. The laws then state that whether the time is unreasonable depends on all the relevant circumstances.
This is important because, although it is vague, it provides some guidance about what you can and can’t do with a child.
For example, leaving an infant unattended at home while you do your grocery shopping would almost certainly be an offence. This is because the time that it would take for you to go shopping would be considered “unreasonable”. On the other hand, it is highly unlikely that you would be charged with an offence against this section if you left your infant unattended at home while you picked up your mail from your mailbox next to your driveway.
Similarly, you may not be charged if you left an 11-year-old at home while you went to the local cornerstore to buy some milk even if you might be gone for some time.
There is therefore no clear explanation of what is a “reasonable time” but all circumstances will be taken into account when deciding if the time is reasonable or not.
If you have care of young children, there will be situations where you might want (or need) to leave them unattended for a period of time.
In those situations, you need to ask yourself whether that child would be able to look after him- or herself in the case of an emergency and whether there is any real risk of harm to that child if you leave them unattended.
For example, it’s unlikely that any harm will come to an infant who is left unattended for a minute while they are sleeping in their cot at home. However if you were to leave that infant unattended in a car, there is a risk that the car could be stolen; it could burst into flames due to overheating; and more.
The best thing that you can do therefore is to use common sense at all times and, if in doubt, bring the child with you.