Letter from the Children's Rights Alliance
for England to the Home Secretary
16 YEAR OLDS
We are extremely disappointed that, despite
widespread professional and public concern about the arbitrary
and unfair nature of generalised curfews, the Government appears
to now believe the scheme will work with teenagers.
The Children's Rights Alliance for England is
an alliance of over 165 voluntary and statutory organisations
committed to promoting children's human rights. Our members have
a long history of championing the rights of vulnerable children
and young people, including those involved in crime and victims
We have several objections to child curfew schemes,
briefly outlined below.
First, child curfews are an unnecessary addition
to existing measures to tackle youth crime, and to support children
and families in difficulty. Section 47 of the Children Act 1989
gives local authorities and the police extensive powers, and the
duty to investigate, where they think a child or young person
(under 18-year-old) is suffering from "significant harm".
These "welfare" approaches to children and young people
roaming the streets late at night without any apparent parental
supervision or care are further reinforced by new criminal justice
measures which are tailored to individuals, rather than to local
Second, punitive action by the police and local
authorities to deal with the problematic behaviour of a few will
have a deleterious effect on local initiatives to foster positive
relationships between young people and those in authority. Police
and local authorities now have a duty to implement local strategies
to reduce crime and disorder, since the onset of the Crime and
Disorder Act 1998. The Home Office's guidance explains that young
people should be involved in the process: a recent publication
by the Local Government information Unit and NACRO illustrates
that this can be extremely beneficial to relationships between
young people and the police (Taking part. Promoting Children
and Young People's Participation for Safer Communities). Our
organisations are in regular contact with young people and they
tell us that the idea of curfews is unfair, impractical and another
example of politicians treating young people disrespectfully.
Third, legal advice obtained in 1998 by a consortium
of major children's organisations, including Barnados, the National
Children's Bureau and the NSPCC, held that generalised curfews
for under 10-year-olds were likely to be in breach of the European
Convention on Human Rights. Principally, the schemes were said
to interfere with Article 8(1) of the ECHR, the right to private
and family life. Although we understand there is some debate about
whether curfews contravene the ECHR, they are widely considered
not to be compliant. Now that the Human Rights Act has simplified
the process of testing potential breaches of the ECHR, we are
certain that any local authority introducing a child curfew scheme
will be quickly subjected to legal challenge. A high profile climb-down
on child curfew schemes, forced by human rights legislation still
openly criticised by opposition politicians and parts of the media,
would be counterproductive for a government that wishes to develop
a human rights culture.
Fourth, the negative nature of child curfews
runs counter to the Government's commitment to end child poverty,
and help children and young people living in difficult circumstances
to reach their full potential. We are certain that the Children's
Fund can have significant impact on youth crime: it is the environments
and social conditions that children and young people live in that
most determine whether they get involved in crime and anti-social
behaviour. We also look forward to increased and accessible services
for young people who misuse drugs and to more effective support
for those in custody.
Fifth, we are deeply concerned about curfews
being disproportionately applied to communities whose members
come from diverse minority ethnic communities. Black families
tend to live in inner city areas that have increased child populations
and disproportionate levels of poverty and disadvantage. Our society
suffers from high levels of racism, especially against young black
people. We anticipate that curfews are much more likely to be
used in communities with diverse communities than in areas that
are predominantly white. This would further damage relationships
between black communities and the police.
Sixth, there is potential for curfews to prevent
individual young people taking part in youth service, arts or
sporting activities, quite apart from putting additional pressure
on young people and families living in cramped accommodation,
perhaps with difficult family relationships.
Finally, the publicity generated by the announcement
of curfews for teenagers feeds public intolerance of society's
young. Public spaces do not belong just to adults. Young people
have always gathered in groupsit is how they socialise
and of course, it is safer than being out alone. While we do not
underestimate the fear and anxiety that this can provoke in older
members of communities, we believe the Government has a responsibility
to promote tolerance and diversity for all members of society.
Young people are easy targets in the build up to elections. They
cannot vote at present but the disrespect and cynicism that this
kind of treatment engenders stays with them for many years.
We hope the Government can quietly discard the
idea of child curfews once and for all. They lack professional
support, parents and young people see them as unfair and an infringement
of their basic civil rights, and they add nothing to existing
measures and initiatives to effectively deal with both the root
causes of crime and anti-social behaviour, and young people who
Representatives from our organisations, including
young people, would welcome an opportunity to discuss in more
detail our objections to curfews.
On behalf of Article 12 young people's organisation,
The Children's Society, National Association for Youth Justice,
National Children's Bureau, NSPCC and Save the Children.
Please reply to: Carolyne Willow, Joint National
Co-ordinator, Children's Rights Alliance for England, 319 City
Road, London EC1V 1LJ.