This publication gives an overview of status offences, including curfew violations, disobedience, begging, truancy, with examples from around the world. It also contains a section on how to challenge curfew laws as a first step towards seeking the abolition of all status offence laws affecting children.
This is a new area of research. As such, the report is a working document. If you know of any relevant information, laws, or have any comments, please email [email protected]
Please note that the examples provided in this report are not necessarily accurate reflections of the current laws in a country or city. Rather, they serve to show the various forms that status offences can take, the ways that they often come into being, and the manner in which they affect children's lives.
Children come into contact with the justice system not only through general crime and delinquency laws, but also through committing special non-criminal "status offences." Status offences are special because they encompass acts that would not be criminal if they were committed by adults. This means that a status offender's conduct is considered unacceptable not because it is harmful, but solely on the basis of age. Status offences take many different forms in countries, states, and localities around the world - examples include curfew violations, school truancy, running away, begging, bad or anti-social behaviour, gang association, and even simple disobedience.
Status offenders are neither criminal nor delinquent, yet they are subject to arrest and detention and - once involved in the justice system - face a glaring lack of parental or legal support. Because status offences are not technically criminal, many status offenders are not guaranteed legal representation and may not even have access to relatives or trusted adults. Moreover, status offenders are frequently brought to the attention of the authorities by parents, which may indicate low levels of support at home.
Status offence laws also tend to have a disproportionate impact on children with the lowest levels of resources and the least available support from home or family environments. Because police are given great discretion to question and investigate children's activities, especially when they are without adult supervision, disadvantaged and street children are targeted because they are forced to spend more time in public spaces and face entrenched cultural biases that equate poverty with criminality.
Most importantly, regardless of their backgrounds or situations at home, status offences are a violation of all children's rights. They violate children's rights because they target what adults consider to be problematic behaviour in children but acceptable once above the age of majority. Thus, limits are placed on children's behaviour that are not tolerated by adults. The United Nations Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency have spoken out against these limits, stating that status offences stigmatise, victimise, and criminalise young people. These guidelines, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the United Nations World Report on Violence Against Children have all called for the abolition of status offences to achieve equal treatment for children and adults.
CRIN believes that status offences are a form of age discrimination and should be eliminated. Status offences are not only unfair, they curtail the freedom children need to grow and develop. They prevent children from becoming integrated into adult society. Ultimately, then, status offences not only fail to respect children's rights, they are in conflict with children's best interests. With this in mind, it is time to call on every country to abolish status offences and protect children from harmful age discrimination.