French cities introduce curfew to curb youth violence

The southern cities of Nice and Beziers have introduced controversial measures to ban all under 13s from being out on the streets unaccompanied after 11pm

Tom Watling
Thursday 25 April 2024 13:50 BST
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Protesters riot in Nanterre, west of Paris, on June 28, 2023, a day after the killing of 17-year-old boy
Protesters riot in Nanterre, west of Paris, on June 28, 2023, a day after the killing of 17-year-old boy (AFP via Getty Images)

Two French cities are imposing night-time curfews for children under 13 in a bid to reduce youth violence following a series of recent fatal assaults involving minors.

The southern cities of Nice and Beziers introduced the controversial curfews, which will ban all under 13s from being out on the streets unaccompanied after 11pm.

If children are found to be breaching the curfew, they may be detained or escorted by police, while parents could face fines up to €150 (£129).

France’s ultranationalist right, led by Marine Le Pen and her party, National Rally, have seized on recent cases of assault involving minors as proof that law and order is breaking down under the current administration of Emmanuel Macron.

The issue of applying curfews has become embroiled in this debate, with some left-wing MPs arguing the focus should be on helping single parents instead.

Last week, two teenagers were charged with allegedly beating a 22-year-old man to death in a suburb of Dunkirk. Three weeks ago, a 15-year-old boy died after being attacked by youths on his way home from school in a suburb of Paris. The same week, a 13-year-old girl was left in a coma after being beaten up by pupils in the southern city of Montpellier. Her mother says she was targeted for not wearing a Muslim headscarf.

It comes after riots erupted in French towns and cities last summer after police shot dead a 17-year-old. Some of those who took to the streets at night and hurled fireworks at police were as young as 11. More than 1,200 of 1,400 rioters arrested were minors.

Robert Menard, mayor of Beziers, (R) speaks with Gilbert Collard (L), France's far-right National Front (FN) party candidate
Robert Menard, mayor of Beziers, (R) speaks with Gilbert Collard (L), France's far-right National Front (FN) party candidate (AFP via Getty Images)

Robert Menard, the mayor of Beziers, who is close to National Rally, has ordered all unaccompanied under-13s off the streets in three neighbourhoods from 11pm to 6am until the end of September. The measure came into force this week.

He said the measures were a response to “an increasing number of young minors left to their own devices at night” and a rise in “urban violence”, though he was unable to provide figures to support the imposition of a curfew.

An interior ministry report from earlier this year, said that under-13s made up only two per cent of suspects accused of assaults and one per cent of those investigated over robberies with violence, casting doubt on the idea of a rise in youth violence peddled by the right-wing.

Mr Menard’s previous attempt to impose a curfew in 2014 was overruled after only a few months for failing to prove “the existence of particular risks relating to minors under 13”.

Nonetheless, he claims that for the few months that it was upheld, parents were able to regain authority over their children.

Christian Estrosi, the centre-right mayor of Nice, introduced a similar curfew, again without providing supporting evidence.

He suggested a previous curfew in place from 2009 to 2020 had proved that such measures were “effective”.

Ahead of the European parliament elections in June, in which Ms Le Pen’s party is expected to win a significant number of seats, centrist French President Emmanual Macron has adopted a hardened stance on youth violence.

He proposed stiffening penalties for parents of children caught taking part in street violence over a concern about the loss of parental authority.

He also introduced an 8pm-5am curfew for under-18s in France’s Caribbean territory of Guadeloupe, starting this week. Local authorities say minors make up about 38 per cent of lawbreakers.

Tim Newburn, Professor of Criminology & Social Policy at the London School of Economics, said the curfew policy was unlikely to deal with the “substantive” issues allegedly causing rising rates of youth violence.

“It’s the kind of thing that provokes rather than calms and, of course, fails to deal with the substantive matters at hand,” he said.

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