Curfew for children proposed
Jack Straw, Home Affairs spokesman for the opposition Labour Party in Britain, is advocating an under-age curfew to keep young boys and girls off the streets after bed-time.
He envisions police vans - operated by the police or council workers - cruising urban streets netting kids, scooping them up to be delivered to mum and dad - who have been sitting there anxiously wondering where the little dears have been.
A curfew sounds the contemporary theme of family and its dislocation while echoing the age-old anxiety of parents that their children are uncontrollable.
There is indeed anecdotal evidence of young children spotted out late, unchaperoned. But how many, and where, and how can you tell whether a child is loitering with intent or coming back late from a friend or the video store? Most people would readily agree the sight of a child aged under 10 on the streets after dark is unsettling - a good citizen ought to inquire or report.
But how late is too late for a 13-year-old ? Police and local authorities are already attentive to amusement arcades and other child hang-outs; the reach of the authorities is and will probably always will be limited when it comes to the estates and housing schemes.
Mr Straw comes unstuck if he is advocating a national plan of action. They tend to fail for two reasons.
One is that incidence differs markedly across the country.
The contours of family, child numbers, schooling, policing and race are self-evidently different in Stockwell, London, - near Mr Straw's home - from Sandwell, Sandbach in Wales or Stenhousemuir in Scotland.
The second is that central government has time and again proved itself no more capable at mounting the cross-disciplinary, trans-departmental effort that combatting complex social problems demands.
There is an emergent class of social issues which can only really be addressed locally, by means of detailed programmes of co-operation between area agencies, local authorities, the police and business.
Children on the streets after hours is one of them, along with truanting, school violence and drug abuse.
It is far better to begin locally. Many organisations, public and voluntary, already keep an eye on the street.
Businesses, too, look to their security. They know, in particular places, whether there is a problem with children after dark. It will be their joint action that will be needed to engage with it.
Mr Straw says he has in mind the experience of Coventry when proposing a curfew.
With the co-operation of the Home Office, Coventry enacted by-laws making its city centre 'dry' as a way of coping with a rash of teen crime.
It has not been conspicuously successful.
Other areas, some with similar, some with divergent problems, can only watch, compare and learn.