Australia: NSW COVID fines on children could breach international law

The University of NSW reports

The NSW government’s decision not to replace COVID fines – issued to about 3000 children – with cautions, could violate the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child.

A sign at the border warning of fines for COVID-19 breaches

The NSW government has issued close to 3000 fines to children between 10-17. Photo: Shutterstock

Dr Noam Peleg, senior lecturer at UNSW’s Faculty of Law & Justice, said suggestions by the NSW government that children as young as 10 could work off COVID fines of up to $1000 were “outrageous” and a breach of Australia’s obligations under international law as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child.

“The fines themselves are a violation of the Convention on the Rights of a Child,” Dr Peleg said.

“And working orders directed at children are a second, consequential, violation. A child rights framework cannot support fining children and then forcing them to work off their fines. NSW government measures are far from compatible with international best practices,” Dr Peleg said.

Much of Dr Peleg’s work has focused on international children’s rights law and its intersection with human rights law.

A report in The Guardian Australia found almost 3000 children between the ages of 10 and 17 had been subjected to fines for failing to comply with a direction under the public health act. The report said Revenue NSW had confirmed work and development orders, also known as WDOs, had been used for people under the age of 18. A WDO allows participants to reduce fines by engaging in unpaid work, counselling courses or treatment programs.