What Legal Rights Does Your Child Have?

babyboysuitMore and more in modern times, children are being afforded special legal protections and rights that they have never been granted before, making parenting a bit more complex than it already was (if that’s possible). Legal experts claim that the result of so much legislative activity surrounding the rights of children results from the constant fight between two ideas: First, that children should receive special protections to guard them from their own immaturity and inexperience, and second, the idea that children should be given the proper amount of autonomy for their age. As a parent, it’s important to know the legal rights of your kids. In other words, even though children aren’t capable of making any important legal decisions for themselves, no one wants children to be left vulnerable, either.

  • Children’s rights to free speech while in school has been repeatedly limited by the US Supreme Court. Cases involving school newspaper censorship have been upheld, in addition to searching student property inside the school, and suspension of students for inappropriate behavior and language. The Supreme Court has often ruled in favor of schools because of the inherent need to protect the entire student body, faculty, and staff, while sacrificing an individual student’s rights.
  • In the US, children are afforded the same basic rights covered in the Constitution. Children are entitled to Equal Protection, which entitles a child the same treatment by an authority regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, gender, or disability. For example, if a child has a learning disability, the child has the right to the same quality of education as their peers. This is what laws relating to special education are based upon.
  • They also have several other basic rights, like the right to a safe environment, good nutrition, healthcare, and education. Often, the child’s right to safety will trump the rights of parents. The state is willing to separate children from parents if a safety issue has been recognized, like if the parents are not meeting the basic needs of the child.
  • Children don’t have the right to consent to medical treatment, vote, sue or be sued, enter into certain contracts, or own property. For example, they can’t acquire property by sale, gift, or inheritance either. This is why property is given to children in the form of a trust, with them being the beneficiary. Trusts can be overseen by someone else until the child reaches a certain age or fulfills certain requirements (like graduating from college) before they can access the trust and its contents.
  • In general, teenagers tend to have more rights than children. Teenagers are able to get a job and work, depending on the labor laws in their state. Working ages and maximum hours per week tend to vary between jurisdictions, but most states allow teens to start working around age 16 to 17, strictly part time.
  • Children also have the right to testify, as long as they are considered to be sufficiently mature and can comprehend the meaning and importance of telling the truth. The judge also evaluates the child’s ability to recall information and communicate his or her thoughts well.

Emily Kaltman writes for Carroll Troberman Criminal Defense in Austin, Texas. She enjoys writing about law and having a clean criminal record.