curfew [O.Fr.,=cover fire], originally a signal, such as the ringing of a bell, to damp the fire, extinguish all lights in the dwelling, and retire for the night. The custom originated as a precaution against fires and was common throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. The curfew has most recently been used in times of turbulence, such as revolution or civil disorders. It is a restrictive measure forcing all persons into their homes to reduce activity against the government or the occupying force. In some communities it has been applied to curb juvenile delinquency.

A curfew can be one of the following:

  1. An order by a government for certain persons to return home daily before a certain time. It can be imposed to maintain public order (such as those after the 2003 North America blackout and 2005 civil unrest in France), or suppress targeted groups (such as was enacted on Jewish people during the regime of Nazi Germany). 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. Some jurisdictions have also introduced "daytime curfews" that would prevent high school-age youth from visiting public places during school hours or even during immediate after-school hours.
  2. 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 is separate per occasion (especially concerning dating), or varies with the day of the week (earlier on a so-called school night, i.e., if the minor has to go to school the next day).
  3. A daily requirement for guests to return to their hostel before a specified time, usually in the evening or night. Arriving later has the consequence of being locked out until the morning. It allows the hostel to dispense with a doorman during the night, and improves quietness at night.
  4. 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 A.M. local time.
  5. Many airports operate with rules that during certain times, the airport will be effectively closed, to facilitate noise restrictions in areas under the airports flight paths. Examples include LaGuardia Airport in New York City, and Sydney Airport in Sydney, Australia. The practice is commonly known as an Operating Curfew, or Movement Restriction.


The word "curfew" comes from the French phrase "couvre feu" which means "cover the fire". It was used to describe the time of blowing out all lamps and candles. It was later adopted by the Medieval English language as "curfeu", which later became the modern "curfew".

Examples of curfews in different countries


The police in two cities Silkeborg and Slagelse have announced that they will detain and bring children below 15 years of ages to the police station and inform their parents to take them home from the station if they are found in town between midnight and 5am. There is no law in Denmark to this day concerning this area, so the children are not punished or warned in any way. The authorities in Aarhus have only suggested it and have sent a letter to the parents.


Under Iceland's Child Protection Act (no. 80/2002 Art. 92), children aged 12 and under may not be outdoors after 20:00 unless accompanied by an adult. Children aged 13 to 16 may not be outdoors after 22:00, 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 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.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom's 2003 Anti-Social Behaviour Act created zones that allow police to hold and escort home unaccompanied under-16s after 9 PM, 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. The ruling is being appealed by the Home Office.

United States

Curfew law in the United States is a matter of state, rather than federal, law because it is not specifically delegated to the national government by the Constitution. As a result, curfews are set by state and local governments and vary by state and even by county or municipality.

See also


External links

Search another word or see curfewon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature