This article originally appeared on The West Australian on January 26, 2019
A WA solicitor says the 12-year-old girl who gave birth at home before arriving at Peel Health Campus earlier this month could be charged, along with the baby’s young father.
Youth Legal Service WA solicitor Sally Dechow said the baby’s conception was illegal even if both the mother and father were under 16 and willing participants because the law stated that they could not consent.
“Legally they could both be charged, but in practice we’ve found it’s usually the boy who is charged,” she said.
“You have to look at the welfare of these kids and whether it’s in the public interest to prosecute children of this age.”
She said the ramifications of being charged and convicted would include being registered as a child sex offender.
Police have the discretion not to prosecute and will take into account issues including whether it would be in the public interest and what supervision and support the children have available.
The objectives of youth justice are also to keep children out of the court system where possible.
The 12-year-old girl told hospital staff she did not know she was pregnant when she arrived at Peel Health Campus.
Both she and her healthy baby were transferred to King Edward Memorial Hospital before later being discharged.
WA Police say the boy who they believe is the baby’s father is a child of similar age to the mother and known to her.
They said they were working closely with the Department of Communities, the Department of Health and the girl’s family and that “complex social issues” were being managed.
Police said the priority was to ensure appropriate support was provided to the family.
But they are investigating because in WA it is illegal to have sexual activity with someone aged under 16, even if the child is willing.
Leading Perth obstetrician Michael Gannon, the former national president of the Australian Medical Association, said there were always big concerns about “a child having a child”.
While he did not know the circumstances of the case, he said that often very young girls tried to conceal their pregnancy, sometimes out of denial, and in rare cases might not even realise they were pregnant.
“There are legal issues of course, because theoretically it’s not possible to conceive a child at age 12 because the age of consent is 16, but if there is no discordance with the age of the father then police normally don’t show much interest in it,” he said.
“The realities in these pregnancies is that they are frequently concealed, because of shame or denial or lack of understanding of the symptoms,” he said.
“People find it extremely hard to understand how a pregnancy can be concealed but it can happen.”
Dr Gannon said that if a mother did not receive antenatal care the risks in the pregnancy increased.
He said a 12-year-old girl was still developing physically, and her skeleton was not properly formed, which created risks in normal childbirth.
Often a girl that age would have no idea about how to be a mother.
“Even mothers in their 20s and 30s will tell you how trying it is to bring up a child, let alone for a 12-year-old,” he said.
The Department of Communities would not comment on the case.