Victoria Police have been issuing hundreds of fines to Victorian children for failing to wear a face mask.
Over 260 infringements resulting in a fine have been recorded up until June 2021. At least 29 of these were given to children between the ages of 10 – 14.
Young children face fines of $40 per offence, while children over 15 cop an $80 fine.
These fines were given to children while they were outside on streets, playing in parks, or waiting at train stations during the mandatory mask public health orders in Victoria.
“Wherever possible, police will issue a warning or caution to a child rather than a fine,” said a police spokeswoman. “If a breach of the Chief Health Officer directions is blatant, obvious, or deliberate – and the young person is ineligible for a caution – a penalty notice may be appropriate.”
Fining children for failing to wear masks outdoors, particularly when many of their parents are out of work and short of money, has been seen as cruel and potentially harmful.
Anyone 12 years and over is required to wear a face mask indoors, while masks remain mandatory in school for Grade 3 and above. It is strongly recommended and widely enforced for Grade 2 students.
A spokesperson from Victoria’s Department of Education confirmed that masks will remain a mandatory feature inside the school system ‘until we have certainty from the Commonwealth about the vaccination of all school-aged children’. This appears to remove a parent’s choice about whether or not they wish their child to be vaccinated.
Jane Munro, a paediatrician at Melbourne Royal Children’s Hospital, said that the mask mandate on Victoria’s children was ‘backed by good science’.
“It is simple, it is safe. There are no health risks for a child wearing a mask. It is easy to do and it is also common sense. Some people might still be confused about why we need to do this and it is because we want to get kids back to school and keep them there,” said Munro.
Not all experts and parents agree with the controversial measures – in particular, the ‘overly punitive’ enforcement carried out by Victoria Police.
Principal Commissioner for Children and Young People Liana Buchanan expressed her concern for the Victorian government’s health orders which allow police to fine young children.
Buchanan pointed out that the act of police fining young children would risk tangling them up in the criminal justice system unnecessarily.
“[Buchanan is] extremely concerned at the prospect of marginalised children receiving fines when we know that will have little effect and simply risks drawing them into the criminal justice system when they cannot pay.”
CEO of Youth Affairs Council Victoria Katherine Ellis said that she would prefer Victoria Police to be handing out masks to children, rather than fines.
Children, particularly young children, can experience discomfort when wearing masks all day in school. They often find themselves put in detention or sent home if they repeatedly disobey mask directions.
Little is known what the long-term mental health impact will be for Victoria’s children after being fined by police at such a young age.