Having recently begun university, I find myself constantly talking to other students about my life before uni – the places I have been to, all the things I have experienced and all the people I have met.
It makes me realise not only the extent to which my experiences have shaped me as a person over the past 19 years, but also how lucky I am to have had the opportunity to gain those experiences. This summer, under-16s were banned from areas of central London after 9pm, unless accompanied by an adult. This denies a whole generation of young people the right to the kinds of diverse experiences I have enjoyed and condemns them to remain removed from the realities of life until more than half-way through their teens.
If curfews were a mechanism to keep young people safe, they would take into account that we often congregate in “gangs” because we do not, in fact, feel safe by ourselves. They would concentrate on children, rather than young people, because they are less able to guarantee their own safety; and they would be enforced in badly lit residential estates rather than the comparative safety of a crowded square.
My memories of exploring the city I grew up in are intensely positive. I remember going to city parks, evenings spent walking by the river and of finding new friends and new things to do each week. We did not go out looking for trouble; we went out looking for some new experiences, something more to learn, to get involved in. There was little to do in my local area, but we found our own places to go.
Now young people are being denied this right, with no compensation in terms of increased youth provision. In Richmond, in south-west London, a group of teenagers were recently in the news after being granted legal aid to challenge a blanket curfew imposed by the local council. There has been little positive news around the same issue – no new youth centres, no investment in local public spaces.
Society cannot deal with its problems by locking up or shutting out large sections of the population. No group of adults would tolerate this clumsy punishment, or would want to be deprived of the experiences they enjoyed when they were young, when they too enjoyed roaming freely. It makes me wonder about the kind of person I might have been with these kinds of restrictions – and I am sure that I could not have tolerated it. I don’t think that any other young person should have to.
• Kierra Box is a student and youth activist