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A curfew is an order specifying a time during which certain regulations apply. Typically it refers to the time when individuals are required to return to and stay in their houses or homes. Such an order may be issued by public authorities but also by the owner of a house to those living in the household. For instance, an au pair is typically given a curfew, which regulates when they must return to the host family's home in the evening.
The word "curfew" comes from the Old French phrase "couvre-feu", which means "cover fire". It was later adopted into Middle English as "curfeu", which later became the modern "curfew". Its original meaning refers to a law made by William the Conqueror that all lights and fires should be covered at the ringing of an eight o'clock bell to prevent the spread of destructive fire within communities in timber buildings.
The first formal "curfew order" was introduced in 1918 by the British board of trade, which ordered shops and entertainment establishments to extinguish their lights by 10:30 p.m. in order to save fuel during World War I 
- An order issued by the public authorities or military forces requiring everyone or certain people to be indoors at certain times, often at night. It can be imposed to maintain public order (such as those after the Northeast Blackout of 2003, the 2005 civil unrest in France, the 2010 Chile earthquake, the 2011 Egyptian revolution, and the 2014 Ferguson unrest), or suppress targeted groups. Curfews have long been directed at certain groups in many cities or states, such as Japanese-American university students on the West Coast of the United States during World War II, African-Americans in many towns during the time of Jim Crow laws, or people younger than a certain age (usually within a few years either side of 18) in many towns of the United States since the 1980s; see below.
- An order by the legal guardians of a teenager to return home by a specific time, usually in the evening or night. This may apply daily, or vary with the day of the week, e.g., if the minor has to go to school the next day.
- An order by the head of household to a domestic assistant such as an au pair or nanny. The domestic assistant must then return home by a specific time.
- A daily requirement for guests to return to their hostel before a specified time, usually in the evening or night.
- In baseball, a time after which a game must end, or play be suspended. For example, in the American League the curfew rule for many years decreed that no inning could begin after 1 am local time (with the exception of international games).
- In aeronautics, night flying restrictions may restrict aircraft operations over a defined period in the nighttime, to limit the disruption of aircraft noise on the sleep of nearby residents. Notable examples are the London airports of Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, which operate under the Quota Count system.
- In a few locations in the UK patrons of licensed premises may not enter after a "curfew" time, also known as "last orders". In Inverclyde for example this is currently set at 12:00 am.
On 2 August 2020, following the surge of COVID-19 cases in Victoria, especially in Melbourne, Victorian premier Daniel Andrews declares a state of disaster across the state and imposed stage 4 lockdown in Metropolitan Melbourne. The new measures include nighttime curfew, which implemented across Melbourne from 20:00 to 05:00 (AEST). The restrictions comes into effect at 18:00 (6 pm) and last until 13 September 2020.
On 28 January 2011, and following the collapse of the police system, President Hosni Mubarak declared a country-wide military enforced curfew. However, it was ignored by demonstrators who continued their sit-in in Tahrir Square. Concerned residents formed neighborhood vigilante groups to defend their communities against looters and the newly escaped prisoners.
On the second anniversary of the revolution, January 2013, a wave of demonstrations swept the country against President Mohamed Morsi who declared a curfew in Port Said, Ismaïlia, and Suez, three cities where deadly street clashes had occurred. In defiance, the locals took to the streets during the curfew, organizing football tournaments and street festivals, prohibiting police and military forces from enforcing the curfew.
Under Iceland's Child Protection Act (no. 80/2002 Art. 92), children aged 12 and under may not be outdoors after 20:00 (8:00 p.m.) unless accompanied by an adult. Children aged 13 to 16 may not be outdoors after 22:00 (10:00 p.m.), unless on their way home from a recognized event organized by a school, sports organization or youth club. During the period 1 May to 1 September, children may be outdoors for two hours longer.
Children and teenagers that break curfew are taken to the local police station and police officers inform their parents to get them. The age limits stated here shall be based upon year of birth, not date of birth. If a parent cannot be reached, the child or teenager is taken to a shelter.
In Sri Lanka, the Sri Lanka Police are empowered to declare and enforce a Police Curfew in any police area for any particular period to maintain the peace, law and order under the Police Ordinance. Under the emergency regulations of the Public Security Ordinance, the President may declare a curfew over the whole or over any part of the country. Travel is restricted, during a curfew, to authorised persons such as police, armed forces personal and public officers. Civilians may gain a Curfew Pass from a police station to travel during a curfew.
The United Kingdom's 2003 Anti-Social Behaviour Act created zones that allow police from 9 PM to 6 AM to hold and escort home unaccompanied minors under the age of 16, whether badly behaved or not. Although hailed as a success, the High Court ruled in one particular case that the law did not give the police a power of arrest, and officers could not force someone to come with them. On appeal the court of appeal held that the act gave police powers to escort minors home only if they are involved in, or at risk from, actual or imminently anticipated bad behaviour.
In a few towns in the United Kingdom, the curfew bell is still rung as a continuation of the medieval tradition where the bell used to be rung from the parish church to guide travelers safely towards a town or village as darkness fell, or when bad weather made it difficult to follow trackways and for the villagers to extinguish their lights and fires as a safety measure to combat accidental fires. Until 1100 it was against the law to burn any lights after the ringing of the curfew bell. In Morpeth, the curfew is rung each night at 8pm from Morpeth Clock Tower. In Chertsey, it is rung at 8pm, from Michaelmas to Lady Day. A short story concerning the Chertsey curfew, set in 1471, and entitled "Blanche Heriot. A legend of old Chertsey Church" was published by Albert Richard Smith in 1843, and formed a basis for the poem "Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight". At Castleton in the Peak District, the curfew is rung from Michaelmas to Shrove Tuesday. At Wallingford in Oxfordshire, the curfew bell continues to be rung at 9pm rather than 8pm which is a one-hour extension granted by William The Conqueror as the Lord of the town was a Norman sympathiser. However, none of these curfew bells serves its original function.
Curfew law in the United States is usually a matter of local ordinance (mainly applied by a municipality or county), rather than federal law. However, the Constitution guarantees certain rights, which have been applied to the states through the 14th Amendment. Hence, any curfew law may be overruled and struck down if, for example, it violates a juvenile's 1st, 4th, 5th or 14th Amendment rights. Nonetheless, curfews are set by state and local governments. They vary by state and even by county or municipality. In some cities, there are curfews for persons under the age of 18. American military curfews are a tool used by commanders at various installations to shape the behavior of soldiers.
The stated purpose of such laws is generally to deter disorderly behavior and crime, while others can include to protect youth from victimization and to strengthen parental responsibility, but their effectiveness is subject to debate. Generally, curfews attempt to address vandalism, shootings, and property crimes, which are believed to happen mostly at night, but are less commonly used to address underage drinking, drunk driving and teenage pregnancy. Parents can be fined, charged or ordered to take parenting classes for willingly, or through insufficient control or supervision, permitting the child to violate the curfew. Many local curfew laws were enacted in the 1950s and 1960s to attack the "juvenile delinquent" problem of youth gangs. Most curfew exceptions include:
- accompanied by a parent or an adult appointed by the parent;
- going to or coming home from work, school, religious, or recreational activity;
- engaging in a lawful employment activity or;
- involved in an emergency;
Some cities make it illegal for a business owner, operator, or any employee to knowingly allow a minor to remain in the establishment during curfew hours. A business owner, operator, or any employee may be also subject to fines.
A 2011 UC-Berkeley study looked at the 54 larger U.S. cities that enacted youth curfews between 1985 and 2002 and found that arrests of youths affected by curfew restrictions dropped almost 15% in the first year and approximately 10% in following years. However, not all studies agree with the conclusion that youth curfew laws actually reduce crime, and many studies find no benefit or sometimes even the opposite. For example, one 2016 systematic review of 12 studies on the matter found that the effect on crime is close to zero, and can perhaps even backfire somewhat.
There are also concerns about racial profiling. In response to concerns about racial profiling, Montgomery County, Maryland passed a limited curfew, which would permit police officers to arrest juveniles in situations that appear threatening.
Many malls in the United States have policies that prohibit minors under a specified age from entering the mall after specified times, unless they are accompanied by a parent or another adult or are working at the mall during curfew times. Such policies are known as mall curfews. Malls that have policies prohibiting unaccompanied minors at any time are known as parental escort policies.
Curfews for all
States and municipalities in the United States have occasionally enacted curfews on the population at large, often as a result of severely inclement weather or political unrest. Some such curfews require all citizens simply to refrain from driving. Others require all citizens to remain inside, with exceptions granted to those in important positions, such as elected officials, law enforcement personnel, first responders, health care workers, and the mass media.
However, unlike juvenile curfews, all-ages curfews have always been very limited in terms of both location and duration. That is, they are temporary and restricted to very specific areas, and generally only implemented during states of emergency, then subsequently lifted or allowed to sunset.
In 2015, the city of Baltimore enacted a curfew on all citizens that lasted for five days and prohibited all citizens from going outdoors from 10 pm to 5 am with the exception of those traveling to or from work and those with medical emergencies. This was in response to the 2015 Baltimore protests.
In 2020, citywide curfews were enacted in San Francisco and several surrounding cities; San Jose; Minneapolis; Atlanta; Chicago; Cleveland; Columbus; Denver; Jacksonville, FL; Los Angeles; Memphis, TN; Omaha, Nebraska; Lincoln, Nebraska; Pittsburgh, Philadelphia; Portland; Salt Lake City; San Antonio; Buffalo, New York; Rochester; Syracuse; New York City; Milwaukee; Seattle; Cincinnati; Indianapolis, Indiana; Fayetteville; Raleigh, North Carolina; Charleston, SC; Sacramento, CA; Columbia, SC; and Asheville, NC due to protests regarding the death of George Floyd. Countywide curfews were enacted for Los Angeles County, California and Alameda County, California as well. Arizona enacted a statewide curfew.
- Don A. Allen, member of the California State Assembly and of the Los Angeles City Council in the 1940s and 1950s, urged enforcement of curfew laws.
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- New York Post, June 1, 2020. Gov. Andrew Cuomo Orders Curfew for New York City