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Sunday, July 13, 2008

To curfew or not

The Sunday Times reports that nine out of 10 parents would back a curfew to prevent their children going out after dark. The poll follows news that the home affairs select committee of the House of Commons will say this week that a national curfew on young teenagers could curb anti-social and violent behaviour. Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the committee, said: “I have sympathy with the view that children should not be out after 9pm.”

There are many dangers with this approach of course, not least the misconception that a problem, which is particularly severe in some English Cities applies across the whole Country and therefore requires a nationwide solution. Such an idea is nonsense. A curfew in Redruth, Cornwall, which will run over the summer holidays, gives police the power to remove anyone under 16 seen on the streets after 9pm and any child under 10 after 8pm but I suspect that has more to do with general anti-social behaviour rather than specific issues regarding knives.

The Redruth curfew also underlines the fact that the police and local Councils already have powers to introduce curfews when such measures are necessary on a case by case basis (the 2003 Anti-Social Behaviour Act I believe). If we are to go down the curfew road then that is the correct approach, not a blanket measure impacting on all communities irrespective of the circumstances.

My biggest issue with such a proposal however lies with its implications for young people. We should be clear that the vast majority of young people are law-abiding and more likely to be the victim of knife and other crime than its perpetrator. What justification is there for removing their liberties because of the behaviour of a few of their peers? There is none.

This measure would introduce a siege mentality across Britain. It would place any young person innocently going about their business under suspicion and heighten fear of crime in local communities.

This government has introduced countless measures to deal with crime and disorder since it came to power in 1997. Many of them are specifically targetted at and demonise young people. Despite that we still have the same problems now as we did 11 years ago.

Maybe it is time for a different approach, in which government invests in engaging young people, reconciling them with their community and providing facilities for them to safely gather at night. Did the Home Affairs Committee consider the approach? Or did they consider it would not get big enough headlines?
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