We explain what a curfew is, what it is for and how it works. In addition, we tell you how it differs from the state of the site.

A curfew is established to deal with a situation of public commotion or risk.

What is a curfew?

a curfew It is a measure of prohibition or restriction of the free mobility of citizens of a city, region or country that establishes a government to deal with a situation of shock or public risk. It is a legal measure, common in contexts of war or social crisiscompliance with which is supervised by the forces of public order or, even, by the armed forces.

When a government decrees a curfew, it is requiring its citizens to remain at home for their own good, that is, to prevent them from taking risks and endangering their safety and/or that of third parties. Therefore, under a curfew it is not allowed to circulate on public roads, except to attend to emergencies or situations of extreme urgency. This measure is typically applied at night, but can also be used during part of the day.

The exact terms on which a curfew is implemented They are normally contemplated in the national constitution and the laws of each country. There it is established when it can be declared and what is the exact bureaucratic procedure, how long it can last and what are its limits. The latter is particularly important, since the free movement of people is considered a fundamental human right, which must not be violated except when extraordinary forces of a higher order are in force.

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See also: Social control

How does the curfew work?

curfew how it works
The curfew must be made public and official well in advance.

Essentially a curfew It is a government decree that, when it comes into force, prohibits the movement of citizens in certain time slots, or restricts it to hours considered less risky or safer. This varies depending on the specific situation being faced. The curfew must be made public and official well in advance, so that people can take precautions and adjust their affairs to the allowed time.

Law enforcement and/or military take to the streets during curfewto ensure that no one fails to comply with the mandate to stay in their homes, or that only those exempt from the measure do so, or those who are forced by necessity or urgency to go out into the street, such as in the face of a medical emergency, for example.

People who break the curfew can be reprimanded, fined or even imprisoned, depending on the severity of the situation.

What is a curfew for?

Curfews are emergency preventative measures. They are implemented when there is a threat that is difficult to control and that puts public safety at risk, either for reasons of governability or because it threatens the life and integrity of people. Thus, for example, curfews are implemented in situations of war, insurrection, terrorist attack, environmental catastrophe or health epidemic.

One controversial aspect of curfews is that restricts a fundamental freedom of citizenship and grants control of the streets to the Statesomething that authoritarian or openly autocratic governments can use to suppress political opposition and prevent legitimate citizen protests.

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Finally, curfews are not necessarily national: they can be imposed at the regional, municipal or local level. Even the manager of a house can impose a curfew: a time after which the house will not open its doors. The latter, however, is a rather metaphorical use of the phrase.

In which countries has a curfew been declared?

Throughout history, different countries in different circumstances have declared a curfew on their population. For example, During the acute phase of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, many countries imposed a “health curfew” to prevent its population from circulating freely and contracting a disease unknown at that time. Among these countries were Argentina, Spain, South Africa, Peru, Ireland, France and many others. The schedules and conditions of each one could vary according to the case.

In other contexts, a long night curfew was imposed in Chile, during the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochetfrom September 11, 1973 to January 1987. Something similar happened in Peru during the time of terrorism (1980-2000), with the purpose of controlling the activities of subversive groups; and also in Puerto Rico in September 2017to prevent looting that occurred after the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

Curfew and state of siege

curfew state of siege
In a state of siege, severe measures are imposed, which may include a curfew.

The curfew should not be confused with the state of siege, although in both cases the State can restrict some citizen liberties to ensure safety and order. While the curfew is limited to imposing a schedule of non-public circulation, a state of siege implies a much more severe set of conditionsamong which is usually part, precisely, the curfew.

Thus, during a state of siege, it is not only possible to impose a curfew, but also to suspend the rest of the public guarantees (except, in principle, some of the basic human rights), completely militarize public roads, carry out expropriations, among other emergency measures.

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More in: Site status


  • “Curfew” on Wikipedia.
  • “Curfew” in the Pan-Hispanic Dictionary of Legal Spanish of the Royal Spanish Academy.
  • “What is the ‘curfew’ and why the constitutionalists warn that restrictions should not be set by decree” at the Torcuato Di Tella University (Argentina).