In 1995 the Australian Law Reform Commission and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (ALRC, 1997) conducted an inquiry into 'children' (aged 12-25 years) and the legal process. A significant finding of the inquiry was that 'children' do not have political power. They have limited say in decisions affecting their lives and are generally unable to have input when decisions are made against their best interests. The National Children's and Youth Law Centre submission clearly summed it up by stating:
Children and young people are a relatively powerless group in society. Adults very often make significant decisions about children without consulting them or seeking to involve their participation in the decision making process. They are rarely informed or consulted about new laws and policies which will impact upon them. They are frequently denied rights and opportunities that other members of the community take for granted. Many laws treat children and young people not as people but as the property of their parents or as objects of concern. Many protectionist laws and policies are based on outdated paternalistic notions. There is a considerable imbalance between children and young people and government agencies such as the police and schools.
Young people need to rely to a large extent on adults to speak on their behalf and protect their rights. The vulnerability of children tends to be reinforced by the attitudes of adults in society and the legal processes.
High rates of unemployment, homelessness and mental health problems (including suicide) reinforces the critical need for young people to be advocated for strongly across government and non-government departments.
The ALRC (1997) found that many young people do not feel they have a voice in the legal processes affecting them.
- 70 percent stated that the magistrate or the judge did not let them have a say in their case.
- 62 percent did not know what was happening, and
- 78 percent believed they did not have enough say in decisions made about them.