Children in NSW are struggling to pay back COVID-19 fines, after being hit with over $2.1 million worth since July last year.
New data reveals New South Wales police have doled out almost 3000 on-the-spot penalties to kids failing to comply with COVID-19 restrictions, some worth as much as $5000.
Samantha Lee, police accountability solicitor at Redfern Legal Centre, explained minors simply cannot be expected to pay.
“A child has as much capacity to pay a $1000 or $5000 fine using their pocket money as an ant has to push a boulder uphill,” she said.
“The issuing of a penalty notice should be a measure of last resort, especially where children are concerned.”
Representatives from the Aboriginal Legal Service say these fines are being issued to a disproportionate number of children from Indigenous communities.
“Some of the children we are assisting received multiple $1000 fines in a single day,” Aboriginal Legal Service acting CEO Nadine Miles said.
Ms Miles criticised police for handing out such heavy fines to the state’s most vulnerable, the penalties only exacerbating the significant disadvantage Aboriginal children already face.
“The extraordinary number of fines reveals a failure by police to exercise their discretion to deal with young people appropriately,” she said.
The questionable exercise of police powers was a concern shared by Lauren Stefanou, coordinating solicitor of the Aboriginal Legal Service’s COVID-19 legal assistance clinic. Ms Stefanou noted police chose to hand out fines despite alternatives to issue a warning or caution.
“It really does beg the question, ‘why were those options not being utilised more readily?'” she said.
Ms Stefanou has represented children as young as 12 as they struggle to appeal. She explained much of the burden to repay would fall onto families already on the breadline.
“This debt is going to haunt children for months, if not years, to come.”