By Evridiki Fatolia,
In the summer of 2017, the BBC published an article headlined “Coffee shop owner defends no children policy, inspired by the story of a businessman in Brixham, Devon, who established an ocean-liner-themed coffee cafe. Fearing that kids might damage the antiques and collectibles that adorned the premises of the space in question, and wanting to guarantee that his clientele could enjoy a ‘calm atmosphere’ free of ‘distraction,’ the owner of this business decided to bar admission to children under the age of 12.
Although this may have surprised a lot of people, those familiar with comparable practices in the UK may not have been surprised by this instance. People visiting tea shops with their children have reported having terrible experiences, and under-16s have been banned entry into particular chains unless accompanied by adults. The sign industry appears to have tapped into this market cleverly, producing a variety of signs that may meet the preferences of every business management, from signs with simple text to signs with children featured in them – all signs that might easily be mistaken for official traffic signage. Not wanting children at some business establishments can also manifest itself in more subtle ways, such as staff aloofness, the absence of kid menus, or the lack of high chairs in restaurants.
Of course, this is not a discussion exclusive to the United Kingdom. Similar problems have been argued in other nations, most notably the United States, but also in other parts of Europe. Going out to restaurants with children appears to be a particularly contentious topic, with many users on social media claiming that high-end businesses should unquestionably implement no-child laws. Some deal with the issue humorously, attempting to persuade people that parents may prefer to take their children to restaurants rather than leave them at home with a babysitter, and so eateries should not exclude children.
Preventing children from accessing a company appears to be an obvious example of age discrimination. The UK’s Equality Act 2010 prohibits age discrimination, but not in the provision of services to those under the age of 18. This exclusion safeguards the freedom of shops and enterprises in the UK to exclude anybody under 18. Although civil liberties and children’s rights NGOs lobbied for the Equality Act 2010 to outlaw age discrimination against children in the provision of services (among other things), lawmakers found no need to listen. Unfortunately, governmental discussions and explanatory notes on the relevant law provide no guidance on why this equality and non-discrimination principle exemption is required or acceptable. Despite later legislation aiming at improving protection for the elderly, younger individuals have remained exposed to prejudice. One assumes that such ‘no children permitted’ bans are implemented mostly because company owners are truly worried about their property being destroyed by thoughtless children or to be stolen.
Even though a child’s misbehavior does not constitute a criminal offense, it may be dealt with through an Antisocial misbehavior Order (ASBO). On the other hand, other company owners will be concerned about the corporate image they want to project, such as a classy and relaxing restaurant for an adult audience rather than a chaotic ambiance full of loud youngsters. However, because adults may be noisy and toddlers can be placid, age should not be used as a proxy for customer conduct. As debates over work dress regulations impacting disabled and female employees have demonstrated, corporate image and the expectations or aspirations of certain clients should not be permitted to override people’ rights and dignity. And it is the rights and dignity of children that are at issue here.
Children are aware that they are not permitted to visit specific places such as nightclubs. The rationale for such regulations is to protect children from circumstances that may be harmful to their physical or moral development, such as alcohol usage or the presence of pornography. Whether one accepts or disagrees with such bans, the goal is clear: to safeguard children. In the case of ‘no children’ policies at stores and restaurants, the goal is clear: to preserve the company, frequently at the expense of children’s dignity, self-esteem, and well-being.
The role of the law, particularly anti-discrimination law, is to promote people’s dignity and protect them from stigma. The Equality Act of 2010 does not do this for youngsters who may just want to go to a shop to buy a magazine or to a tea shop with their parents. Prejudiced, unfavorable assessments are formed about their behaviors and ability to manage themselves, rather than about their honesty and character, based only on their age. This is abhorrent and humiliating; it denigrates children, and no kid should be the recipient of this message unless strong, reasonable grounds for such child prohibitions can be shown. Even if businesses simply believe that children are not profitable enough clients or are not worth the effort required to serve them, allowing business owners to impose a blanket ban on children for the sake of the business rather than the children is discriminatory and disproportional, and should thus be illegal. Adults are only barred from particular settings based on their real past or present misbehavior the same should be true for children.
- Equality Act 2010. gov.uk. Available here