Before sending the little goblins and ghouls out trick-or-treating this Halloween, parents may want to find out if their kids are legally too old to go door-knocking.
There are age limits and curfews (as well as threats of jail time or fines up to $100), in cities across North America — including in Canada. But trick-or-treaters aren’t hunted down “Planet-of-the-Apes” style by police checking for IDs.
Cities in Virginia, such as Chesapeake, have recently made headlines for their long-standing age bans for trick-or-treaters older than 12.
In some Virginian towns, it’s been illegal for teens to go trick-or-treating since the late 1950s. In Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, Hampton, Newport News and Norfolk, those breaking the law could be guilty of a class four misdemeanor.
According to city codes, offenders could potentially face a fine ranging between US$25 and US$100, or even face up to six months in jail. But all law enforcement and city officials who spoke to CTVNews.ca said that these laws are rarely, if ever, enforced.
“We generally don’t have an issue with this (people being charged in the law),” said Kim Lee, a Newport News spokeswoman.
If older trick-or-treaters knocked on her door, she’d simply tell them: “I’m not giving you any candy.”
Virginia laws also prohibit the use of masks on Halloween, which could reduce the number of teens trying to trick-or-treat.
Most officials stressed that they didn’t want kids in general to be scared if they’re out on Halloween and they’re older than 12.
“I can assure you that the Norfolk Police Department is not going to go around arresting children for trick-or-treating,” Norfolk police spokesperson Daniel Hudson told CTVNews.ca. “They shouldn’t fear if they’re 13 years old that they’re going to be put in jail — that is not the case.”
He added that in his 15 years in law enforcement, he’s never seen the law actually imprison trick-or-treaters simply for being older than 12. Hudson said the laws were designed to prevent older citizens from committing criminal acts on Halloween.
“It’s a way to make sure the children who are trick-or-treating have a safe environment to trick-or-treat,” he said.
Halloween restrictions in one Canadian city started with a similar issue.
Last year, Bathurst, N.B. set a Halloween curfew of 8 p.m. and banned all trick-or-treaters older than 16 from door knocking, following a string of mischief by troublemakers on prior Halloween nights.
Older children were stealing candy from younger kids, Bathurst’s Deputy Mayor Kim Chamberlain explained.The bylaw was a revisionofa law enacted in 2005, which had banned kids older than 14 from trick-or-treating.
Under the bylaw, anyone older than 16 or those caught with a "facial disguise" after curfew could be fined up to $200. City spokesman Luc Foulem told CTV Atlantic in 2017 that the rules may appear ”kooky,” butstressed that kids weren’t being tracked by police.
Other cities in the U.S., including those in Mississippi, Maryland, North and South Carolina, have age restrictions on trick-or-treaters. These include Upper Deerfield Township, N.J., Meridian, Miss., Apex, N.C., Bishopville, S.C., and Boonsboro, Md.
Cities with age limits on trick-or-treaters also have curfewsfor legal trick-or-treaters who aren’t allowed out past 8 p.m. Additionally, several New Jersey communities such as Bridgeton and the townships of Hopewell, Stow Creek, Maurice River don’t have age bans but do have curfews.