Published 22 December 2023, The Daily Tribune

The issue of imposing a curfew for minors has long been a subject of debate. Proponents of curfews argue that they are essential to protect minors from crimes and to promote their safety.

Some, however, contend that the imposition of a curfew infringes on the right of children to freely travel within their respective localities, as well as their parents’ natural and primary right to rear their children.

Preliminarily, as parens patriae, the State has the inherent right and duty to aid parents in the moral development of their children (Spouses Imbong v. Ochoa Jr., G.R. No. 204819, 8 April 2014). Article 139 of Presidential Decree No. 603, also known as the Child and Youth Welfare Code, authorizes Local Government Units to set curfew hours for children. The Code states, “City or municipal councils may prescribe such curfew hours for children as may be warranted by local conditions.”

However, while rights may be restricted, such restriction must be narrowly drawn only to the extent necessary to achieve the purpose of the governmental regulation.

In the case of Samahan ng mga Progresibong Kabataan (SPARK) v. Quezon City, City of Manila, and Navotas City (G.R. No. 225442, 8 August 2017), the Supreme Court examined and ruled upon the constitutionality of the different curfew ordinances imposed by the three LGUs.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the Quezon City ordinance, while the Manila and Navotas ordinances were declared unconstitutional for overly restricting minors’ fundamental freedoms.

The Quezon City curfew ordinance, unlike the ordinances of the other two LGUs, sufficiently safeguards the minors’ constitutional rights as it provides adequate exemptions that are more narrowly drawn. The exceptions included therein uphold the right of association by enabling minors to attend both official and extracurricular activities of their school, church, or other legitimate organizations, as well as the right to peaceably assemble and of free expression as it allows minors’ attendance in the official activities of civic or religious organizations during curfew hours, among other things.

Unlike the ordinances of the other two LGUs, the curfew ordinance of Quezon City only prohibits unsupervised activities of minors that clearly do not contribute to their well-being at a time when danger is perceivably more prominent.

Parenthetically, it should be pointed out that under Sections 57 and 57-A of RA No. 9344, as amended, or the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act of 2006, there is a prohibition on imposing penalties on minors for status offenses such as curfew violations. As such, a curfew ordinance cannot impose any form of fine or imprisonment on the minor-violator. The same law encourages LGUs to adopt more appropriate intervention programs, such as community-based programs, which are not seen as a penalty but as valid disciplinary measures.

In fine, LGUs should carefully craft their curfew ordinances so as not to duly restrict the fundamental liberties of minors. While curfew ordinances aim to insulate minors from criminal pressures and influences, these should not give local enforcers unbridled discretion that may lead to abuse.

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