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Children and the law

For tailored fact sheets and other information see also our Young People pages here.

Generally, a child is a person under 18 years of age.


There are four main State Acts that specifically deal with children.

As well, there is the Commonwealth Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to which Australia is a signatory.

To locate topic based information, please use the table below.

Topic/s Chapter/Section
parental responsibilities Children and Young People, Child Protection, Parental rights and duties
physical discipline Children and Young People, Child Protection, Physical discipline
legal age to babysit Children and Young People, Child Protection, Legal age to babysit
leaving home Children and Young People, Child Protection, Leaving home
medical treatment Medical Treatment and Related Issues, Children under 16 years

body piercings


body modification

Criminal and Traffic Offences, Tattooing, body modification and body piercing
taking or defending legal action Court - Suing and Being Sued, Children and civil claims
parental liability Accidents and Injuries, Children and negligence


young offenders

Children and Young People, Young Offenders
cyber stalking and cyber bullying Criminal and Traffic Offences, Stalking, cyber stalking and cyber bullying
graffiti Criminal and Traffic Offences, Graffiti
victims of crime Victims of Crime, Children and young people
child sexual assault Criminal and Traffic Offences, Child sexual assault
entering into contracts Consumers - Contracts and Credit, People under 18
employment Employment, Young Workers
driving Criminal and Traffic Offences, Driver's Licences, Learner's Permit
sex and relationships Children and Young People, Sex and relationships
alcohol, tobacco and other drugs Children and Young People, Alcohol, tobacco and other drugs
gambling Children and Young People, Gambling
weapons Children and Young People, Weapons
education Children and Young People, Education

Sex and relationships

Any person 17 years or older can have sexual relations with another person aged 17 years or more, if they each consent. This can be a person of the same or the opposite sex [Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) s 57]. It is against the law for a person in a position of authority (for example, a teacher) to have sex, or to try to have sex with a person under 18 years [Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) s 49 see the handbook on Sexual Offences]. 'Sexting' images of people who appear to be 18 or under is illegal. Please see the chapter, Criminal and Traffic Offences, 'Sexting' and the production and dissemination of child pornography for more information.

For information about de facto relationships and marriage please see the chapter, Family Relationships.


Advice on contraception can be obtained from a medical practitioner or other health services. There is no legal requirement for a parent to consent for a child to receive contraceptive medical advice or treatment, but in the case of a child aged under 16 years, a second medical opinion may be necessary. Please see the chapter, Medical Treatment and Related Issues, Children under 16 years, for more information.


In South Australia the law on abortion it is covered under the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) s 82A(1). A woman (of any age) who has resided in South Australia for at least two months may have an abortion, at certain hospitals, by a medical practitioner who agrees with another medical practitioner with one of the following assessments:

  • the pregnancy continuing involves greater risk to the pregnant woman's life, or greater risk of injury to her physical or mental health, than terminating the pregnancy, or
  • there is a substantial risk if the pregnancy is not terminated that the child will be seriously handicapped from physical or mental abnormalities.

Where a child is unable to consent to abortion or sterilisation (for example, due to an intellectual disability) only the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT) can give consent, not the child's parents, but they are given an opportunity to make submissions to the Tribunal [Guardianship and Administration Act 1993 (SA) s 61]. However, in the case of P. v P.(1994) 181 CLR 583, the High Court held that where a child's parents have been married, the Family Court has the power to make an order approving sterilisation, notwithstanding a decision to the contrary by the Tribunal.

Please see further our Sex and Consent factsheet.

Alcohol, tobacco and other drugs


If a child is sold or given liquor on licensed premises, both the child and the licensee, the responsible person, and any other person who supplies the child, have committed an offence. Liquor can be supplied at meals in the presence of a child but cannot be served to the child. Children cannot enter or remain on premises where a late night permit or an entertainment venue licence is in place or licensed areas which are declared out of bounds to minors [Liquor Licensing Act 1997 (SA) s 112]. In these situations, a sign should be displayed prohibiting access to minors.

It is illegal for minors to consume alcohol in any public place unless they are with a parent or guardian.

Private Parties

Parents hosting a party for teenagers need to be aware of any insurance and legal implications of serving alcohol to teenagers. At a party in a private house, it is an offence to supply children with alcohol unless the person supplying the adult is a responsible adult or is an authorised adult who has the permission from a responsible adult, and that supply is consistent with the responsible supervision of the child [Liquor Licensing Act 1997 (SA) s 110A(1) , s 110A(4)] . A responsible adult is an adult who is the parent of the child, someone standing in the position or having the responsibilities of a parent, or the spouse or domestic partner of the child [s 110A(1)]. Responsible supervision includes consideration about the age of the child, whether the adult is intoxicated, whether the child is intoxicated, and the quantity and type of alcohol provided [s 110A(5)].

There are now high penalties, $10 000 Maximum Penalty, or a $500 Expiation Notice for this offence if these conditions are not met.

If no parents or responsible adults are present then there can be other long-reaching implications for any consequences that arise as a result of the teenagers’ alcohol consumption. For example, if there is an injury or property damage a lack of supervision will be a factor in establishing negligence. As with any person inviting others onto their property, a duty of care exists for the occupier (host) to take measures to avoid any reasonably foreseeable harm to those invited. With the popularity of social networking gate-crashing of teenage parties has become a new phenomenon and a duty of care can extend to trespassers under s 20(6) of the Civil Liability Act 1936 (SA). Despite not being invited onto the premises, there may still be a duty of care if they are exposed to danger that was reasonably foreseeable and no action was taken by the occupier to avoid it. For this reason it is essential to have a plan in place to deal with emergencies.

See also Gatecrashing - trespassing at private parties and our Young People and Parties factsheet.

Under the Public Intoxication Act 1984 (SA) the police can apprehend anyone (including a child) if they believe he or she is under the influence of alcohol and by reason of that fact is unable to take proper care of themselves. The police can then take him or her home or to a police station or sobering up centre. Where reasonably possible, the parents or guardians of a child who is detained should be contacted and special arrangements should be made to keep the child away from contact with adults who are detained at the same place [ss 6,7].

See further our Alcohol and the Law factsheet.


It is an offence with a fine up to $5000 to sell, lend or give tobacco products to a person under 18 years [Tobacco Products Regulation Act 1997 (SA) s 38A]. A customer who is suspected of being under 18 years old may be requested to show proof of their age [s 39], and it is offence to refuse or give a false statement or identification [s39(2)].

See further our Cigarettes and the Law factsheet.

Other drugs

Under the Controlled Substances Act 1984 (SA) it is an offence to consume, possess, manufacture, sell or supply any controlled (an unlawful) drug. There are many other offences about the use and manufacture of drugs and even synthetic drugs and drug alternatives see more in the section on Drug Offences.

Young offenders are dealt with differently to adults with regards to drug offences and possible sentencing options exist include informal or formal police cautions or Family Conferences (see Young offenders). However, the option of an expiation notice for a simple cannabis possession offence does not apply [s 45A(2)].

Drug offences committed against children are taken very seriously and extremely heavy penalties can apply. The sale, supply or administration of a controlled drug to a child or in a school zone attracts a maximum penalty of $1 000 000 or life imprisonment or both [Controlled Substances Act 1984 (SA) ss 33F and 33G].

See further our Drugs and the Law factsheet.


A bet by a child (under 18) or by an adult with a child is an offence under the Lottery and Gaming Act 1936 (SA) [ss 53, 54]. It is also an offence to receive money from a child for the purpose of gambling [s 55].

Children cannot operate poker machines or enter areas where poker machines are operating [Gaming Machines Act 1992 (SA) ss 56-58]. Similar restrictions apply to 'Keno' games in licensed premises.

It is also an offence to sell lottery tickets to children under the age of 18 years, State Lotteries Act 1966 (SA) [s 17B]. However, it is a defence if the ticket seller reasonably believed the child was over 18 years.

See also Cheating at Gambling.


It is an offence for a person to carry an offensive weapon or have possession of a dangerous article without a lawful excuse [see Summary Offences Act 1953 (SA) s 21C]. For more information about weapons offences, see CRIMINAL AND TRAFFIC OFFENCES, Weapons.


As of 3 February 2012, it is an offence to sell a knife to a minor under the age of 16 years [see Summary Offences Act 1953 (SA) s 21D(1)]. The maximum penalty for this offence is a fine of up to $20 000 or imprisonment for up to two years.

A knife for the purposes of this offence does not include a razor blade permanently enclosed in a cartridge or a disposable plastic or wooden knife used for eating [ See reg 8 Summary Offences Regulations 2016 (SA)].

It is a defence if the person selling the knife requested a prescribed form of evidence of age, such as a driver's licence or proof of age card, and the minor made a false statement or produced false evidence of their age, resulting in the sale [see s 21D(2)].

It is also an offence, as of 3 February 2013, for a person to market a knife to any person for sale or hire in such a way as indicates or suggests (by its name or description) the knife is suitable for combat or is otherwise likely to encourage the use of the knife as a weapon [see Summary Offences Act 1953 (SA) s 21D(4)]. The maximum penalty for this offence is a fine of up to $20 000 or imprisonment for up to two years.


Any person who has a firearm in his or her possession without holding an appropriate licence is guilty of an offence under the Firearms Act 2015 (SA) s 9. A person under the age of 18 cannot normally hold a firearms licence [s 14(3)] but some exceptions apply.

A child aged between 12 and 17 years who is a member of a recognised firearms club and needs to hold a firearms licence for competitions held in another state or country, may obtain a category 1 (shooting club) licence for 3 years [Firearms Regulations 2017 (SA) reg 14(7)].

A child aged between 15 and 17 years whose employer or relative is the operator of a business in primary production may obtain and hold a category 5 (primary production) licence for an A or B class firearm, but may not acquire a firearm [reg 18(4)].

Children aged 10 to 14 years may use a registered firearm (category A or air handgun) under the continuous supervision of a guardian (or other person approved by their guardian) who holds an appropriate licence for the purpose for which the firearm is being used [s 8].

Children 14 to 17 years may also use a registered firearm (category A, B or H) under the continuous supervision of a guardian (or other person approved by their guardian) who holds an appropriate licence for the purpose for which the firearm is being used [s 8].

There is also provision for very specific circumstances relating to coaching, sporting and theatrical or film productions [reg 40].


Attending school is compulsory for all compulsory school age children - that is, children aged between 6 and 16 years [Education Act 1972 (SA) s 5]. Each child of compulsory school age is required to be enrolled at a primary or secondary school and if absent from school the parent must, within a reasonable time, give a written explanation for the absence [Education Act 1972 (SA) s 76(2)(c)].

There are now provisions requiring children to remain in full time education until they turn 17. Under the Education Act 1972 children of compulsory education age (i.e. 16) must remain in full time education or training until they turn 17 or gain a qualification.

It is an offence for a child not to attend school without good reason (e.g. illness or other reasons that have been officially approved, see Education Regulations 2012 reg 68). Where a child fails to attend without good reason each parent is guilty of an offence [Education Act 1972 (SA) s 76(3)]. The maximum penalty for this offence is $500.

Under the Education Act 1972 (SA) a child of compulsory school or education age who is habitually or frequently absent from school or an approved learning program without a valid excuse is guilty of truancy [s 79]. A child of compulsory school age who is persistently absent from school without a satisfactory explanation is also regarded as being 'at risk' for the purposes of the Children's Protection Act 1993 (SA) s 6(2)(d).

Any authorised officer (for example, a police officer or a school attendance officer) who sees a child of compulsory school or education age in a public place during normal school hours has the authority to stop and ask the child’s name, age and address and why they are absent from school [s 80]. A police officer can, without a warrant, take a child who is reasonably suspected of being a truant to their home or school [Education Act 1972 (SA) s 80].

Under section 78 of the Education Act 1972 (SA) it is an offence to employ a child of compulsory school or education age during school hours or during hours at which participation in an approved learning program is required. The maximum penalty for this offence is $5000.


According to the Department of Education and Children’s Services, in the event of a suspected drug-related incident:

  • The safety and wellbeing of students will be considered paramount
  • Parents will be contacted in instances of possession, use or distribution of illicit drugs or the illegal distribution of unsanctioned drugs
  • Police will be informed in instances of possession, use or distribution of illicit drugs or the illicit drugs and/or the illegal distribution of unsanctioned drugs

Schools are not authorised to conduct drug tests or to insist they can be conducted as a condition of re-entry following a suspension or exclusion. Where principals believe there is a need to conduct a search to investigate a suspected drug related incident, police should be contacted to do so.

This policy applies to all Government schools though independent and Catholic schools have been encouraged to adopt the same approach.

See further our Drugs and the Law factsheet.

School Fees

The head teacher of a Government school may set fees for materials and services provided to students. These fees are recoverable as a debt due to the school council, however a student cannot be refused materials or services if these fees are not paid [Education Act 1972 (SA) s 106A(8)].

If the student is under 18, his or her parents are liable for the debt. If the student is an independent adult he or she is liable. An adult student dependent on his or her parents is liable together with his or her parents.


A teacher's relationship with a student is based on the fact that, while the child is at school, the teacher is in loco parentis (that is, the teacher takes over the role of the parents) and is entitled to use the parents' authority to carry out his or her duties in relation to the child.

A teacher who inflicts physical punishment on a child when not properly authorised to do so, or who uses excessive force in doing so, may be committing assault.

In government schools a teacher's right to punish a pupil is governed by the Education Act 1972 (SA) and the regulations made under the Act, which give school principals the authority to impose controls on the behaviour of students and to apply penalties for breaches of school rules.

The head teacher of a government school has broad powers to suspend, exclude or expel a student who has, for example, threatened or perpetrated violence; or has acted in a manner that threatens the safety or well being of other persons at the school or has acted illegally, or has acted in a manner that threatens the good order of the school [Education Regulations 2012 (SA) r 44-46]. Physical punishment was phased out of government schools in 1991 and can no longer be administered. However, teachers can detain students during their lunch break and after school hours [Education Regulations 2012 (SA) r 43 ].

In non-government schools it is the governing body of the school that makes the rules for discipline and the type and manner of punishment for the breaking of those rules.

Unfair or discriminatory punishment might be unlawful - for example, where a group of children are punished when not all could be guilty. However, this has not been tested by the courts. In one case it was held to be enough that the punishment was a reasonable response to what the teacher thought the child had done.

Suspension and exclusion

Students can be suspended, excluded or expelled if they threaten or are violent at school or represent a threat to the safety of students or staff. This includes:

  • bullying and racially vilification
  • doing something illegal
  • causing serious trouble in class that affects other students
  • not performing school work and not participating in class
  • repeated breaches of school rules

The decision to suspend, exclude or expel will depend on the severity and frequency of the misbehaviour, past behaviour and a student’s response to previous requests [Education Regulations 2012 (SA) r 48].


Suspension requires a student to be absent from normal classes and activities for a specific period of time. Suspension means that the student is not permitted to be on school grounds for a particular period of time (up to five consecutive school days) [Education Regulations 2012 (SA) r 44].


The head teacher of a school can exclude a student from attendance at the school (up to 20 weeks in a calender year). Before excluding the student, the student must first have been suspended. A student must obey reasonable written directions in relation to undertaking education, work or other relevant activity during the period of an exclusion, and it is an offence to fail to follow these directions, maximum penalty $200 [see generally Education Regulations 2012 (SA) r 45].


A student can be expelled for behaviour for which they have previously been suspended. Their parents must be informed about such a step [Education Regulations 2012 (SA) r 46].

There are two types of expulsion:

1. From a particular school by the head teacher [Education Regulations 2012 (SA) r 46].

2. From all schools and other educational facilities by the Director General of the Education Department, on the recommendation of the head teacher [Education Regulations 2012 (SA) r 47].

During the period of expulsion, suspension or exclusion the student must not enter the school grounds except with the written approval or at the written request of the head teacher of the school, maximum penalty, $200. [Education Regulations 2012 (SA) r 49].

An expulsion can be appealed by the student, the student’s parents, or another adult acting on behalf of the parent or student. The rules about when and how an application for an appeal should be made are found in the Education Regulations [Education Regulations 2012 (SA) r 50]. Note that there are very short time frames in which an appeal must be made.

The Department for Education and Child Development has an information pamphlet explaining procedures for suspension and exclusion for state schools. For independent schools (i.e. non-government schools), information on policies for suspension, exclusion and expulsion can be obtained directly from the individual school.

Accidents and injuries

See Children and negligence - Accidents and injuries at school

    Children and the law  :  Last Revised: Tue Feb 6th 2018
    The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.