For many 10 and 11-year-old girls, life is all about talking to their friends, learning the lyrics to the latest Taylor Swift song and making plans to go to the mall. But, what happens when a child that young goes down the road of an adult?
It’s happened in the Northeast where an 11-year-old girl just became a mother. She gave birth to a baby boy this week, becoming one of the youngest mothers in the history of the United States. And now that she is a mother – does that mean she’s technically an adult who can make adult decisions?
Judge Andrew Napolitano, Fox News' senior judicial analyst answered a few legal questions for FoxNewsHealth.com.
Q: What is the law when a minor gets pregnant?
A: A mother who is a minor has the same rights of motherhood — the right to make unfettered decisions about the raising of the child — as an adult mother, depending upon her age and level of maturity. The courts have several rules of thumb that they follow. If the minor is 12-years-old or younger, she is presumed to lack the maturity to make unfettered child-rearing decisions; and the place where the baby was delivered is obliged to deliver the minor and the baby into the hands of a competent adult who agrees in writing to be a guardian and to advise the minor that she must live with and make child-rearing decisions in conjunction with the guardian.
Q: What if the child is between the ages of 12 and 16?
A: If the mother is 16 or older, she is presumed to be mature enough to raise the child unimpeded by a guardian or any court and the place that delivers the baby is free to hand the baby to the minor alone. If the mother is between 12 and 16, it is the duty of the physicians who delivered the baby to involve the mother with a guardian who will live with her, or to petition a court of competent jurisdiction to address the matter, depending upon the physicians’ objective opinion of the minor’s level of maturity and access to material resources.
Q: Are there exceptions?
A: Note that the scenario above presents merely guidelines and presumptions, not hard and fast rules of law. Thus, for example, it is theoretically possible that a 10- year-old could possess the maturity to raise a child unimpeded by a guardian (though, I know of no case that has found this to be so); and it is theoretically possible that a 16-year-old may require a full-time guardian (I know of many cases that stand for this). There are many other lawful obligations imposed upon physicians who deliver babies from minors, but they do not involve the emancipation of the mother.
Q. What exactly does emancipation mean?
A: The paragraph above provides guidelines for the ages of emancipation for minor mothers. “Emancipation” in this context means that a child is no longer subject to her parents and is free to live and to raise her children as she wishes.