Joint Committee On Human Rights Minutes of Evidence

Annex G

Letter from the Children's Rights Alliance for England to the Home Secretary


  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 of crime.

  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 populations.

  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 groups—it 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 have offended.

  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.

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