Monday, September 6, 1999 Published at 11:44 GMT 12:44 UK
Children 'should be protected, not punished'
Curfews undermine parents, say children's campaigners
Child curfew orders might be more workable if they were presented as protecting children, argue experts.
Critics say they are an infringement of children's rights and are too punitive.
The Local Government Association says they should only be used as a "last resort".
But supporters, including the Association of Chief Police Officers, believe children's rights have to be balanced by the rights of communities to be free from vandalism and intimidation.
The orders were introduced as part of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and came into force on 30 September 1998.
They allow the police and local authorities to apply to the courts for a ban on children being out alone at night in specific areas.
But no local authority in England and Wales has yet used them.
The Children's Society says this is because they are "unworkable".
A spokesman said: "The trouble with this blanket approach is that it is unnecessarily draconian.
"Communities are not about control containment policing, but about cooperation, citizenship, allowing people responsibility and giving them the opportunity to express that.
He added that they could undermine the government's "more constructive" parenting initiatives.
"We need to allow parents to take responsibility for some of the decisions they make," he said.
The Children's Society was more positive about a Scottish initiative which emphasises child protection rather than punishment.
The South Lanarkshire Child Safety Initiative, now called the Children and Young Person's Safety Initiative, was piloted in three areas of Hamilton in 1997.
Last year, the initiative was extended to the whole town until October when it will be evaluated.
The initiative, run by Strathclyde police and South Lanarkshire Council, gives police patrolling the streets at the weekend the power to return unsupervised children under 16 to their homes if they are deemed to be at risk of or involved in danger or crime.
"It is meant to ensure young children do not find themselves in dangerous situations," said a spokesman for South Lanarkshire Council.
The initiative sprung out of a citizen's jury, the first in Scotland, where members of the public expressed concerns about vandalism and underage drinking.
In the first year, 280 children were returned to their homes, with only five being subject to criminal charges.
The children returned included those found drunk on the streets, a four year old found running between parked cars and children wandering around lost on the streets.
The council says both parents and children are behind the initiative and claim it has cut crime by up to a quarter.
An independent study of the first six months of the pilot found that 87% of parents and nearly 50% of children returned home backed the scheme.
The extension of the award-winning scheme was accompanied by an announcement of £3m for youth programmes.
The Children's Society says children at risk need protection, but a spokesman added that simply returning children home might not be the answer.
He said some children might have run away because they were frightened about what was happening at home so follow-up work to discover the roots of the problem might be needed.