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CHAPTER FOUR

CHILDREN'S PRIVACY AND CONSENT (PERMISSION) RIGHTS
REGARDING MARRIAGE, MEDICAL & HEALTH CARE & PREGNANCY

CAN I APPLY FOR A MARRIAGE LICENSE AND GET MARRIED IF I HAVE NOT YET REACHED THE AGE OF EIGHTEEN (18)?

I. MARRIAGE
A person under the age of eighteen (18) may NOT apply for a marriage license without parental consent. A marriage license is not available to female minors under the age of sixteen (16) years, or male minors under the age of eighteen (18) years of age, unless and until the town clerk responsible for issuing marriage licenses receives written parental permission (consent), or is directed to do so by the Family Court. The law requires that the Family Court conduct a hearing in chambers to determine the advisability of issuing a marriage license to otherwise age disqualified minors. In each case, an application will depend on the unique and individual circumstances of the minor children involved. An important factor will be the maturity of the applicant.(68)

The population of married teenagers during the 1990's increased dramatically. In 2000, fewer than 5% of all teens between the ages of fifteen (15) and nineteen (19) years of age, or a total of 891,000 American teens, were married.

It is believed that teens are becoming more educated about matters of sexuality and terminal diseases such as AIDS that can be transmitted during sex. Also many new citizens coming from countries in Latin America, Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, may account for the increase in teen marriages because teen marriages are more common and accepted in cultures from those countries. Studies show that nearly half of the marriages in which the bride is eighteen (18) years of age or younger end in separation or divorce within ten (10) years.

DO I HAVE TO OBTAIN PERMISSION TO GET A PRESCRIPTION FOR BIRTH CONTROL?

II. PREGNANCY AND RELATED ISSUES
There has been considerable controversy and litigation (lawsuits) at the federal level surrounding the issue of whether a public school or publicly funded health clinic can offer a voluntary program that distributes birth control methods to minors without a parent's or guardian's consent (permission). It is generally agreed that a minor's constitutional right of privacy is stronger than a parent's right to control the decision of a minor who wishes to use birth control to prevent pregnancy. Rhode Island recognizes a minor's right to privacy in this area. You own your body and it is your choice to use birth control as prescribed by your physician.(69)

A recent survey showed the 47% of the girls currently using health clinics for birth control services would stop doing so if their parents were told they were using it. Another recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 99% of girls would continue to be sexually active even if they stopped using the health services at a clinic.

Parental permission (consent) requirements violate federal programs and guidelines under the Social Security Act and other federal laws protecting the economic rights of families. Neither you nor your doctor is breaking the law if you request and receive a prescription for birth control.(79)

In Rhode Island, if you don't have any money to pay for birth control, RITE Care will cover the cost for you. To access this program and medical services, you may call RITE Care at (401) 462-1300, which is administered by the Rhode Island Department of Human Services.

DO I NEED PARENTAL CONSENT (PERMISSION) TO OBTAIN AN ABORTION TO TERMINATE AN UNWANTED PREGNANCY?
 
—> A minor cannot get an abortion without both parents' consent if she is not emancipated or unmarried. If you cannot obtain your parent's or guardian's consent (permission) to have an abortion, or if you choose not to seek their consent, a Family Court judge can authorize a physician to perform the abortion. Before giving you permission to have an abortion, the judge will determine whether you are mature and capable of providing informed consent (permission) to have the abortion. If the judge determines that you are not mature, but that it is in your best interest to end or terminate your pregnancy, the judge may still authorize the physician to perform the abortion.(71)

For additional information call Planned Parenthood at 1-800-230-PLAN or (401) 421-7820.

CAN MY PARENTS OR BOYFRIEND FORCE ME TO HAVE AN ABORTION IF I
DON'T WANT ONE? 

—> Absolutely not. Whether or not to have an abortion is your choice alone. No one can make it for you. No one can force you to have an abortion if you do not want one. If you need to talk to someone about your decision, discuss it with your family physician, school guidance counselor, religious advisor or clergy, or someone else you can turn to for advice. You may contact CARE NET R.I. at (401) 941-HELP or (401) 941-4357.

IF I AM UNABLE TO BE A PARENT TO MY INFANT, MAY I SURRENDER THE
INFANT TO A HOSPITAL?

—> Yes. In 2001, the General Assembly created a "Safe Haven for Infants Awareness Program." A person who leaves an infant a month old or younger, at a hospital or other designated facility, will not be prosecuted for abandonment of an infant.

IF I HAVE A BABY WHILE I AM IN AN  OUT-OF-HOME PLACEMENT, CAN THE
STATE TAKE MY BABY AWAY FROM ME?

—> Your DCYF caseworker might file a petition to have the baby become a dependent child, as defined elsewhere in this Handbook, if the circumstances support that decision. You should contact a lawyer about your rights as a parent in this situation. You have the right to have a lawyer represent you at no cost, if DCYF files a petition against you seeking custody of your baby. The baby may be able to stay with you in your placement, or the baby may be taken away and placed in a separate placement. If available, you may be transferred with your baby to a placement that is most supportive of you as a parent.(72)

DO I NEED MY PARENT OR GUARDIAN'S PERMISSION TO PUT MY BABY UP FOR ADOPTION?

—> No. Voluntary termination of your parental rights does not require your parent's consent. The state does require the consent of both parents (that means you) of the baby before the baby can be adopted.(73) Generally, the Family Court will appoint a guardian ad litem to ensure that you understand the consequences of your decisions. A guardian ad litem is an adult who can speak to the court on your behalf after becoming familiar with your case.

IF MY BABY DIES, MUST I REPORT IT TO THE POLICE?

—> Yes. Under Rhode Island law any female who has given birth and conceals the death of an infant to whom she gave birth, whether the baby died of natural causes or was murdered, shall be imprisoned up to ten (10) months in a separate charge, or fined up to Three Hundred Dollars ($4300.00) for concealing facts.(74)

DOES A MALE FACE CRIMINAL PENALTIES FOR HAVING SEXUAL RELATIONSHIPS WITH FEMALES WHO ARE MINORS?

—> Yes. Any person over the age of eighteen (18) years of age who engages in sexual penetration of another person who is under the age of consent which is age sixteen (16), and over the age of fourteen (14), can be found guilty and convicted of third degree sexual assault and faces a penalty of up to five years in prison.(75) It should be noted, however, that while most situations involve males pursuing females, the law does not limit criminal liability to males, but rather includes any person who is sexually inappropriate with any other minor person.

A person under the age of sixteen (16) cannot legally consent to sexual penetration and therefore, a defendant charged with third degree sexual assault is unable to offer a defense that the victim consented to the sexual act. This crime was previously and commonly referred to as statutory rape.

A person is guilty of first degree child molestation sexual assault if he or she engages in sexual contact with another person fourteen (14) years of age or under. The penalty for second degree child molestation sexual assault is not less than six (6) years or more than thirty (30) years in prison.(77) In interpreting the law, judges have made a distinction between touching that is intended to result in sexual arousal or gratification, and "an ambiguous touch" requiring a jury to speculate as to whether there was a sexual purpose.(78)

Court records including the identity of a victim of child molestation sexual assault are confidential and shall not be made public.(79)

III. SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES

WHAT IS AIDS(ACQUIRED IMMUNE DEFICIENCY SYNDROME)?

—> AIDS is a disease caused by a virus that makes it hard for your body to resist infection. It can lead to your death. The AIDS virus is transmitted or passed in semen, blood, and vaginal secretions. If the virus gets into your blood stream, you can become infected.

There is no vaccine to protect us against AIDS. There is no cure for AIDS. There is some evidence that the number of deaths from AIDS is increasing in America.

You do not get AIDS from toilet seats, water fountains, touching, swimming pools, or simply being around someone who has AIDS. You can get AIDS if you have unprotected or unsafe sex with someone who carries the virus.

DO I NEED PARENTAL OR GUARDIAN CONSENT (PERMISSION) TO BE TESTED FOR A  SEXUALLY  TRANSMITTED DISEASE (STD)?

—> The Department of Health has developed a specific "HIV Informed Consent" form which explains the obligations of confidentiality regarding test results. Consent is a legal term meaning that you have given permission, after having all the information you need, to make an intelligent choice or decision. As a rule, you must have your parent or guardian give consent before you may be tested. You do not have to have your parents' consent, if they refuse to give it and you are under the age of fourteen (14) and appear to have symptoms of AIDS, or if you are in DCYF custody, or you have an emergency medical problem and it is impossible to obtain adult consent.

CAN THE TEST RESULTS BE DISCLOSED WITHOUT MY PERMISSION?

—> It is unlawful for any person to disclose to a third party the result of an AIDS test without prior permission of your parents or guardian except to your physician or health professional who referred you for the test. The director of DCYF may be notified of the test results if you are in state custody.(80)

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IV. OTHER MEDICAL TREATMENT ISSUES

AT WHAT AGE MAY I GET EMERGENCY MEDICAL OR SURGICAL CARE WITHOUT PARENTAL PERMISSION?

—> Any person who has reached their sixteenth (16th) birthday, or is married, may consent to routine emergency medical or surgical care. If you are a minor parent, you may consent to the treatment of you child. Otherwise, children under sixteen (16) must obtain parental consent; if you are in state care, you and your parent must have the consent of DCYF.(81)

DO I NEED A PERENT'S CONSENT (PERMISSION) IF I WANT TO ENTER A  SUBSTANCE ABUSE OR CHEMICAL DEPENDENCY TREATMENT PROGRAM?

—> Yes. In all treatment of a youth for substance abuse or chemical dependency, the licensed treatment facility shall require the parents of the youth to participate in the treatment. Parental consent for treatment of youth is required unless in the judgment of a qualified professional, contacting the parent(s) would not be helpful to the youth who is voluntarily seeking treatment. A qualified professional would include a doctor, nurse, certified counselor, or licensed psychologist. A parent could be biological, adoptive or a legal guardian.

If providing treatment to a youth without adult consent, the professional may only provide "non-invasive" treatment services. It is encouraged, however, that the qualified professional continues to make attempts to obtain permission from the youth to obtain parental consent for and parental involvement in the treatment.

If you need custodial treatment for chemical dependency, your parents must be notified and they must give their consent. If they refuse and a qualified health professional feels that you need treatment, DCYF may file a petition in the Family Court to get a court order allowing the treatment. The court may determine if you are mature and capable of making your own decision about treatment before approval will be granted and will also consider any risk factors relative to the recommended treatment.

AT WHAT AGE MAY I GET A TATTOO?

—> You can enter a contract to get a tattoo when you are eighteen 918). In Rhode Island, any person who gives a tattoo to a minor under the age of eighteen (18) shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, shall be imprisoned for up to one year or fined up to Three Hundred Dollars ($300.00). "Tattooing" is the practice of marking skin with indelible patterns or pictures by punctures and insertion of pigments. You may have a tattoo removed at any age.(83)

AT WHAT AGE MAY I USE TOBACCO PRODUCTS?

—> Smoking is now banned in many public places. No person under the age of eighteen (8) may legally smoke, chew, or possess tobacco on any public street. A minor can be fined up to five dollars ($5.00) for each offense.(84) Of course, there is no age at which it is medically safe or intelligent to use any tobacco product. We now know that tobacco is addictive and seriously injures our bodies.

In 2001, the Rhode Island General Assembly clarified in the law referred to above that a minor employed by a licensed tobacco retailer can sell tobacco products, otherwise a minor cannot use or possess tobacco products for personal use.

DO I NEED MY PARENTS' PERMISSION TO GET MY BODY PIERCED?

—> Body piercing of a minor is illegal and prohibited. If your parents or guardian gives consent (permission), you may have your body pierced. Body piercers must be registered to do business with the Department of Health. The Department of Health has specific rules and regulations controlling those who offer body piercing. The goal of the regulations is to prevent diseases which can be spread by their instruments. Human immunodeficiency virus (commonly referred to as HIV) and hepatitis B can be transmitted through body piercing. These are serious diseases.(85)

You should be aware of the potential of future and permanent disfigurement and harm to your body before urging your parent to give you permission to have your body pierced.

AT WHAT AGE CAN I LEGALLY DRINK IN RHODE ISLAND?

—> You may not legally consume alcohol until you are twenty-one (21) years of age. You must be eighteen (18) years of age to serve liquor in a restaurant or other licensed establishment. Regarding employment as a bartender and alcohol consumption, see the next chapter discussing employment rights of minors.