Finnish town backs youth curfew

Laitila, Finland Image copyright
Image caption Laitila is not the first Finnish town to try a youth curfew

A town in south-western Finland has introduced a controversial evening curfew on children and teenagers of school-age.

Laitila council insists that the curfew enjoys broad support in the town of about 8,000 people, and follows months of public discussion, the Yle public broadcaster reports.

Town officials recommend that children aged 7-13 should be home by 1930 on a school night, and older school pupils ought not to stay out later than 2100.

The youngsters get a break at weekends, when the two age groups, who total about 900 students, can roam the streets until 2030 and 2300 respectively.

'Lack of sleep'

Laitila's head of education, Tuomas Kankaanpää, says the curfew is "informal", and depends on the cooperation of the townspeople. He told the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper that the council "can only issue a recommendation", as the law makes no provision for an enforceable curfew.

"The basic aim is to alert parents to the welfare of children and young people, and to celebrate the family evening together," Mr Kankaanpää said.

The impetus for the curfew came from the Laitila Children and Youth Welfare Group, which includes council, schools, police and youth club representatives, as well as students themselves, and canvassed the opinion of parents and guardians in an online survey.

"I have only heard positive reactions to the steps," Mr Kankaanpää told the paper, adding that young people have also "raised lack of sleep as a wellbeing issue in a school health survey".

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Yle says the Laitila plan resembles a 1997 curfew in Iceland credited with drastically cutting underage drink and drugs problems in that country, and that there have been more recent attempts at similar schemes elsewhere in Finland.

But the experience has not been entirely positive. Turun Sanomat, the main newspaper in south-western Finland, gives the example of Lammi, a town that tried a 2100 curfew for older school students in the 2000s.

Kim Malmström, a police officer who pioneered the project, concluded that it was unenforceable, and that supervision of young people is the task of their parents. "The parents clearly accept the curfew idea, but young people will object, as they do," he told Hämeen Sanomat newspaper back in 2006.

The town of Vantaa had a similar experience in 2004, when the authorities proposed a curfew over rising cases of juvenile delinquency and children being taken into care. But the council rejected the idea on the grounds that parents have ultimate responsibility for their children and the police would not be able to enforce any curfew, Helsingin Sanomat reports.

'Not a good fit'

Not all Finns are convinced about the curfew, either.

Pipsa Kaikkonen, an 18-year-old member of the Youth Council in the city of Porvoo, told Yle's Swedish-language service that the Icelandic model would not be a good fit for Finland - "It is probably well-meant, but I feel that many young people would think it restrictive and a violation of their rights and freedom at least".

Ms Kaikkonen said it is not a hot topic of discussion in Porvoo except online, where much depends on peer pressure - "If your friend gets to stay out, then you want to stay out longer too."

Reporting by Martin Morgan

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