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The child, the young person and the law

Copeland, A.ORCID: 0000-0001-9383-9486 and Goodie, J. (2008) The child, the young person and the law. In: Monahan, G. and Young, L., (eds.) Children and the law in Australia. LexisNexis Butterworths, Chatswood, N.S.W., pp. 146-163.


Why do we need to distinguish between young people and children? Does the law make such a distinction and does it stick to it? The focus of this chapter is on the circumstances and conditions that serve to distinguish the young person as a particular focus of legal attention and the ways in which the legal system governs young people.

The legal status of young people, and the lawfulness of activities they engage in, depends upon how the legal system conceptualises, and in turn categorises, 'young people'. We argue that young people. occupy an awkward social and legal space, in which they can variously. be characterised as children and in need of legal protection or as adults with legal responsibilities. By contrast, legal and non-legal understandings of what it is to be a child, and the child's place within the legal system, are not quite so ambiguous. In the last 20 or so years there has been a theoretical reorientation in sociological and psychological research towards examining the 'perspective of children ... as subjects who construct their own consciousness and life trajectories' rather than being understood through a prism of social and psychological dependency.l Despite this trend in the 'psy' sciences, children are still generally thought of as socially and physically immature. As a result, they are extended a certain legal, as well as social, indulgence. The flip-side of our adult obligation to protect and nurture children is their exemption from the legal and social responsibilities of adulthood.

Item Type: Book Chapter
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Law
Publisher: LexisNexis Butterworths
Copyright: LexisNexis Butterworths
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