Hopscotch kids at risk

GONE are the days when children could draw hopscotch squares on the footpath with gay abandon.

After next week hopscotch enthusiasts and chalk artists alike could be classed as criminals under anti-graffiti laws.

Amendments to the Graffiti Control Act 2008 awaiting introduction into the NSW Upper House next week will consider any "mark" (temporary or permanent) on an owner's property without their permission a criminal offence. The new provisions have no prerequisite that marks be difficult to remove.

On this basis, anything from a chalk-drawn handball court on private property to a political statement on the footpath could be considered graffiti and would see chalk users slapped with a $440 fine.

A longtime anti-graffiti champion, Lismore City Mayor Jenny Dowell said while she found graffiti "ugly" and it made members of the community feel unsafe, chalk drawings did not fall in the same category as tagging areas with spray paint. She said the notion that new amendments would outlaw chalk drawings was "ridiculous". "Kids should be able to draw hopscotch squares or people should be able to make political statements with chalk," Cr Dowell said. "That stuff is ephemeral and it can be easily removed."

Lecturer at Southern Cross University's School of Law and Justice Serge Killingbeck said the removal of the word "public" in amendments would mean even if a chalk mark was made and it was not visible to the public, a person could be committing a criminal offence.

"Potentially, someone who marks a chalk board in a rented house could be in breach of the laws," Mr Killingbeck said.

"My reading of what these changes do is they change the lesser offence of marking something to consider whether or not it is publicly visible.

"In theory, a child drawing with chalk on the footpath could be prosecuted as the bill removes the in public requirement."

Mr Killingbeck said there were also laws that prevented children being prosecuted.

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