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Your Rights

This section of the Law Handbook is designed to inform young people of their rights in relation to key topics.

These topics currently include:

Please see also the extensive range of factsheets for Young People and Workers - available on our website under Education; Youth Resources:


If you are stopped and questioned on suspicion of doing something wrong, or if the police think that you can help them with the investigation of an offence or suspected offence, the police have to follow rules called General Orders and abide by certain laws.

See our publication In Trouble With the Law on our Publications page if you need legal help.

See also our Police and You factsheet and our Complaints about Police factsheet.

Police powers

What powers do the police have if they stop and question me?

If the police stop and ask you questions you are required to give them your name and address and failing to do so or providing false information is an offence.

The police can arrest you if they reasonably suspect you have committed, are committing, or are about to commit an offence.

[Summary Offences Act 1953 (SA) s 74A]

You do not have to go to the police station unless you are told you are under arrest. You can go to the police station of your own free will (voluntarily) if you are assisting the police with their enquiries.

See also:

Being arrested

If you are arrested certain things apply and the police must comply with Police General Orders and departmental rules when they interview you. In most cases:

  • You will be told what the charge is;
  • You will be allowed to make a phone call;
  • Your parents or guardian or a responsible, independent person will be contacted to be present at the interview
  • You will be provided with an interpreter, if required.

An interrogation can proceed if the offence is not serious and it is not practicable to contact a relative or friend. You do not have to answer questions unless you wish.

Note: The right to a phone call or for a friend to be present, might be denied in some circumstances, e.g. if your friend is involved in the alleged offence.

The police have the power to search you, take your photograph and your fingerprints. In certain circumstances they can arrange for body samples to be taken from you. Police can take anything found on you and may use such force as is reasonably necessary for those purposes. In certain circumstances the police can have you examined by a doctor but you have the right to have a doctor of your own choice also examine you.

[Police General Orders 1320 18:1, 18:6, 20:1, 20:3, 3065, 8:1, 9:5]

[Summary Offences Act 1953 (SA) ss 79A , 81]

See: Arrest, Your Rights, and Bail

Consequence of breaking the law

Can I be charged with an offence at any age?

No. The minimum age is 10. Children under 10 cannot be charged with or convicted of an offence because the law does not treat you as criminally responsible [Young Offenders Act 1993 (SA) s 5].

This does not mean you can do as you like. The Department for Child Protection can take you into its care if your parents cannot control or look after you [Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017 (SA) s 18(1)(d)].

For children between the ages of 10 and 18 there is a special criminal justice system. However, it is not automatic that you go to the Youth Court. What happens depends on your age, the seriousness of the offence, whether you admit guilt, and if you have been in trouble before.

What is likely to happen to me if I break the law?

One of three things can happen to you:

  1. Police Caution
  2. Family Group Conference
  3. Court
What is a Police Caution?

You might be warned by the Police and told not to do it again; this is called an informal caution. This may be an option if you have not done anything serious. No official record is kept [Young Offenders Act 1993 (SA) s 6].

If the offence is more serious and you admit you have committed the offence, the Police may give you a formal caution and may also require you to make an undertaking (promise) to:

  • Pay compensation to the victim of the offence
  • Carry out community service (not more than 75 hours)
  • Apologise to the victim
  • Do anything else that is appropriate in the circumstances

[Young Offenders Act 1993 (SA) s 8]

If you break the undertaking or do not do as the police officer says a Family Group Conference can be held [Young Offenders Act 1993 (SA) s 7(1)(b)].

What is a Family Group Conference?

When a Police Officer notifies a Youth Justice Coordinator about an offence a Family Conference is held to make a decision about what will happen to you. Your parents or guardians, close relatives, the victim of the offence and his/her parents (if under 18), a Police Officer and yourself will be present. You are entitled to legal advice at the conference.

The Family Group Conference has a number of powers. It can:

  • Warn you about further offending
  • Require you to enter into an undertaking to pay compensation to the victim
  • Require you to enter into an undertaking to carry out a specific period of community services (not exceeding 300 hours)
  • Require you to enter into an undertaking to apologise to the victim, or
  • Anything else that is appropriate.

If you do not attend the Family Conference, do not comply with the requirements of the Conference or the undertaking, the Police Officer may lay a charge before the Youth Court and the judge or magistrate will decide what to do. You do not have to tell anyone, e.g. an employer, that you have been to a Family Group Conference.

The victim is the only person who has the right to be advised of the outcome of a conference.

[Young Offenders Act 1993 (SA) ss 10, 11, 12 & 58]


Can I see or read what I like without breaking the law?

No, you cannot see or read what you like under the age of 18 and some films are banned completely, for adults as well. Films, computer games and magazines have what is called a “Classification” that means that they are grouped according to what they contain.

The classifications are:

“G” General recommended for general viewing at any age.

“PG” Parental Guidance is recommended if you are under 15.

“M” Mature is not recommended if you are under 15.

“MA15+” Mature Accompanied (children under 15 not admitted unless accompanied by an adult/parent/guardian).

“R18+” Restricted (no admission if you are under 18).

“X18+” Restricted (Films only)

“RC” Refused Classification

[See Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (Cth) s 7]

See also our factsheet on Porn, Sexual Photos and Films.

Sex shops

Certain films, magazines and video games are not allowed to be watched or bought by people under 18 years old. There are also restrictions on selling or advertising these materials [see generally: Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (SA)].

Because of these restrictions sex shops may not allow people under 18 to enter their shops. There are also often restrictions on mail-ordering of restricted products from the internet; the online store may ask that a person certifies that they are over the age of 18 before entering the site.

Under the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (SA), an owner or employee of a shop that sells restricted films may demand name age and address information and can require minors to leave [s 43].


When can I vote?

You must be aged 18 years or older to vote in any election, whether state, federal or local government.

Who can vote?

To be eligible to vote you must be:

  • 18 years of age or older
  • an Australian citizen
  • have lived continuously at your address for at least one month
  • be of sound mind

When can I enrol to vote?

You can enrol to vote once you turn 16 years of age however you cannot vote until you turn 18. This is called a ‘provisional’ enrolment and allows you to register before you turn 18 so that if you turn 18 after the close of the electoral rolls but before the polling day then you will be able to vote. For further information see the Australian Electoral Commission.

Do I have to enrol to vote?

Initial enrolment is not compulsory for state elections but once you are enrolled you are required to vote and keep your enrolment up to date. However it is compulsory to enrol to vote for federal elections once you turn 18.

What happens if I don’t vote after enrolling?

You will be sent an ‘Apparent Failure to Vote Notice’ asking why you did not vote. It is an offence to fail to vote and also to not respond to the notice. You can be fined if you are unable to provide a valid reason for failing to vote.


When can I start work?

You can start full time work at the age of 17, unless it is part of an approved learning program (such as an apprenticeship), and unless you are 16 and have completed an approved learning program.

You can work before reaching this age provided you do not work during school hours and the work does not interfere with your ability to attend school [Education and Children's Services Act 2019 (SA) s 74(1)].

Are there any jobs I cannot do under 18?

Yes, there are. If you are under 18, you are not allowed to work in particularly dangerous jobs. For example, you cannot work under ground in any mine and you cannot work in a job handling petrol or gas [Mines and Works Inspection Act 1920 (SA) s 17].

You cannot work serving liquor unless:

  • your parent is the manager or licensee of the premises; AND
  • you are at least 16 years of age; AND
  • you have the required approval to do so.

Otherwise you have to be 18 to sell alcohol [Liquor Licensing Act 1997 (SA) ss 107(1),107(2)].

If you are working on a farm, whether it is paid or unpaid work it is a good idea to get a copy of the guide ‘Keep Kids Safe on the Farm’. See also information from SafeWork SA.

All laws that apply to adult workers, such as work health and safety laws, apply equally to those under 18. As an employee you have the right to be safe at work.

When do I pay income tax?

Income tax is not related to your age but how much you earn. If you have any queries about taxation contact the Australian Taxation Office on 132 861.

For more information about young workers contact the Young Worker's Legal Service: (08) 8279 2233

    Your Rights  :  Last Revised: Tue Feb 20th 2018
    The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.