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Debate: Child Curfews

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Should young people be subjected to night-time curfews as a way to reduce crime?

This article is based on a Debatabase entry written by Alastair Endersby. Because this document can be modified by any registered user of this site, its contents should be cited with care.


Background and Context of Debate:

Youth curfews are widely used in the USA to keep children off the street at night; a state of curfew makes it illegal to be out of doors between certain publicised times. In the USA over 300 individual towns have passed local curfew laws that vary in detail, but are all aimed at reducing juvenile crime and gang activity. In Britain a 1998 law allowed local councils to impose curfews for all children under ten, although none has yet chosen to do so. In defining the motion the proposition should think about the age groups at which the curfew is aimed, the hours it would operate, the penalties for offenders and any possible exceptions, for example, is it permitted to be out in the company of an adult?

Argument #1


Youth crime is a major and growing problem, often involving both drugs and violence. Particularly worrying is the rise of youth gangs who can terrorise urban areas and create a social climate in which criminality becomes a norm. Imposing youth curfews can help to solve these problems, as they keep young people off the street, and therefore out of trouble, and prevent them from congregating in the hours of darkness. Curfews are easy to police compared to other forms of crime prevention, and are therefore effective.


Curfews are not an effective solution to the problem of youth crime; research in the USA suggests that there is no link between areas that achieved a reduction in juvenile crime and areas with youth curfews. Although some places did see a reduction in youth crime, this often had more to do with other strategies, such as zero-tolerance policing, or indeed with demographic and economic changes affecting the numbers and prospects of youth people. In any case, most juvenile crime appears to take place between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., after the end of school and before working parents return home, rather than in the hours covered by curfews.

Argument #2


The use of child curfews can help to protect vulnerable children. Although responsible parents do not let young children out in the streets after dark, not all parents are responsible and inevitably their children suffer, both from crime and in accidents, and are likely to fall into bad habits. Society should ensure that such neglected children are returned home safely and that their parents are made to face up to their responsibilities.


Youth curfews infringe upon individual rights and liberties. Children have a right to freedom of movement and assembly which curfews directly undermine, by criminalising their simple presence in a public space. This reverses the presumption of innocence by assuming all young people are potential law-breakers. They are also subject to blanket discrimination on the grounds of age, despite the fact that only a few young people ever commit a criminal offence and that adults too commit crime. Furthermore, curfews infringe upon the rights of parents to bring up their children as they choose. Simply because we dislike the way some parents treat their children should not mean that we intervene to stop it; should we intervene in families where religious beliefs mean girls are treated as inferior to boys, or in homes where corporal punishment is practised?

Argument #3


There is no good reason for children to be out unaccompanied late at night, so a curfew is not really a restriction upon their liberty. They would be better off at home doing schoolwork and interacting with the rest of their families.


Children in their mid-teens have many legitimate reasons to be out at night without adults. Many will have part-time jobs, for example in fast-food restaurants or delivering newspapers. Others will wish to participate in activities such as church groups, youth clubs or school trips. Requiring adults always to take them to and from such activities is unreasonable and will ensure that many never take place in the first place, either because adults are unwilling, or are unable to do so. More sinisterly, some children are subject to abuse at home and actually feel safer out on the streets.

Argument #4


Child curfews are a form of zero tolerance policing, showing that a community will not allow an atmosphere of lawlessness to develop. The idea of zero tolerance comes from the theory that if low-level crimes, like graffiti-spraying, window breaking and drug-dealing (all common juvenile offences) are not acted against swiftly and effectively by the police, then a permissive atmosphere is created where violence and other serious crimes flourish and law and order breaks down entirely. Child curfews can help to the police to establish a climate of zero tolerance and to create a safer community for everyone.


Youth curfews have great potential for abuse, raising civil rights issues. Evidence from U.S. cities suggests that police arrest far more black children than white for curfew violations. Curfews will tend to be imposed upon poor areas in inner cities with few places for children to amuse themselves safely and within the law, compounding social exclusion with physical exclusion from public spaces. These problems will also be made worse by the inevitable deterioration in relations between the police and the young people subject to the curfew.

Argument #5


Child curfews can help to change a negative youth culture in which challenging the law is seen as desirable and gang membership an aspiration. Impressionable youngsters would be kept away from gang activity on the streets at night and a cycle of admiration and recruitment would be broken. By spending more time with their families and in more positive activities, such as sports and youth clubs, which curfews make a more attractive option for bored youngsters, greater self-esteem and discipline can be developed.


Imposing child curfews would actually be counter-productive, as it would increase juvenile offending by turning millions of generally law-abiding young people into criminals. Already in the USA, more children are charged with curfew offences than with any other crime. Yet once children acquire a criminal record they cross a psychological boundary, making it much more likely that they will perceive themselves as criminal and have much less respect for the law in general, leading to more serious forms of offending. At the same time a criminal record harms their opportunities in employment and so increases the social deprivation and desperation which breed crime.

Argument #6


Other schemes aimed at reducing youth crime are desirable of themselves but will work best in conjunction with curfews. If a troubled area develops a whole culture of lawlessness, it will be very difficult to identify particular young criminals in order to rehabilitate them. A curfew takes the basically law-abiding majority off the streets, allowing the police to engage with the most difficult element. Curfews are a tool in the struggle to improve lives in run-down areas; they are likely to be used for relatively short periods of a few weeks or months in order to bring a situation under control so that other measures can be put in place and given a chance to work.


A number of alternative strategies exist which are likely to do more to reduce youth crime. For example, rather than a blanket curfew covering all young people, individual curfews could be imposed upon particular trouble-makers, perhaps involving electronic tagging, breaking up gangs without labelling an entire age-group as criminal. A Scottish scheme puts plenty of police officers on the streets at night with a brief to engage with young people, deterring crime while steering them towards a range of youth activities available at clubs set up by the local council.Other successful schemes aim to work individually with young troublemakers, in order to cut their reoffending rate, for example by requiring them to meet with victims of crime so that they understand the consequences of their actions, and by pairing them with trained mentors. Overall, governments need to ensure good educational opportunities and employment prospects in order to bring optimism to communities where youngsters feel that their futures are pretty hopeless.



  • This House would introduce child curfews
  • This House would lock up its daughters
  • This House believes children should be neither seen nor heard

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