Are Kiwi kids getting their rights all wrong?

“You have the right to remain silent.”

Frankie Gaston

For most adults, this statement is pretty straightforward. But is it simple enough for young people to understand?

Forensic Psychology Master’s student Frances Gaston is researching young people’s understanding of both the adult and youth versions of the Rights Caution in New Zealand.

“International research shows that people under the age of 15 generally don’t have a great understanding of what their rights are, even when they are read adapted versions, like New Zealand’s youth version.

“An example of this might be a child misunderstanding the right to silence as meaning that they aren’t allowed to talk, and that they have to listen to the Police. Actually, in order to protect themselves, they have the right not to speak.”

Frances’s research is the first in New Zealand to look at whether children understand their rights. This includes their understanding of the vocabulary of the Rights Caution, their comprehension of the purpose of their rights and how extra explanation of their rights may impact a child’s ability to understand their rights.

“Our Rights Caution is a very important document and is the process for making sure everyone is awarded the same legal protection. We want to make sure these rights are doing what they set out to do for New Zealanders.”

Frances is interviewing Wellington children for the project and says, “I have had several ‘that’s what I thought you might say’ moments. It is exciting when your idea of what you are expecting to find starts to come through in your research.”

As the project overlaps different areas of psychology, Frances feels lucky to be working with her two supervisors, Dr Clare-Ann Fortune and Dr Deirdre Brown, on the project.

“They both have incredible amounts of knowledge in their areas of psychology and are very supportive. They’re always suggesting I attend conferences and take up other development opportunities.”