Even in 2016, a large portion of the world is still governed by authoritarian regimes that limit the most basic freedoms. Several governments decide what their people can watch, what they can listen to, and even what they can wear.
Simple, everyday activities in some countries can be deemed suspicious in others.
Innocent acts of affection in some places can be seen as taboo in stricter countries, where religion has a major influence on government. Even grooming yourself in a certain way can be seen as offensive to some.
Violating these strict norms could lead to several penalties ranging from hefty fines to jail time. Many people are spending their lives in jail for performing acts that are viewed as ordinary and innocent throughout most of the world.
This article will take you on a journey to the other places, where governments impose bans on what most people take for granted. Prepare to discover the weirdest bans by governments around the globe.
23. Chewing Gum
The next time you’re enjoying a refreshing stick of your favorite gum, take a moment to think about your less fortunate counterparts in Singapore. Chewing gum has been banned there since 1992. The measure was enacted in an effort to keep streets clean.
In 2004, the government began allowing medical professionals to sell “therapeutic gum” to customers with prescriptions. Foreigners have always been allowed to bring in small amounts for personal use. Nonetheless, the ban seemed to move society away from its rebel days of sticking gum everywhere.
An associate professor of law at Singapore Management University told the BBC in 2015, “You’d still be hard-pressed to find people chewing gum in Singapore.”
22. Small Breasts in Aussie Porn
This ban doesn’t explicitly ban pornography featuring women with small breasts. Instead, it indirectly targets porn stars who may appear to be under the age of 18 based on their breast sizes – even if they’re well into their late 20s.
The Australian Classification Board’s 2010 measure applies to “publications which contain offensive depictions or descriptions of persons who are or appear to be persons under the age of 18.”
Although child pornography is illegal, the rule aimed at preventing pedophiles from seeking out porn with adult actresses or models who look as if they’re minors.
The ban ended up pulling copies of “Purely 18,” “Finally Legal,” and Hustler’s “Barely Legal” off shelves.
Ironically, the ban also resulted in a sharp increase of large breasted women being featured in Australian pornography.
People in countries like the U.S. are free to name their kids just about anything. And some people go wild with that freedom. They end up naming kids after fictional characters, objects, or intentionally-misspelled variations of common names. Some countries impose limits mostly for the child’s well-being.
In Sweden, first names can’t be offensive or “cause discomfort for the one using it.” Rejected names include Ikea and Elvis.
In Denmark, families have to choose from a government-approved list of 7,000 names. They can request names not on the list, but these also have to meet certain guidelines. For example, a first name must indicate gender and it can’t also be used as a last name. Rejected names include Anus and Monkey.
Other countries with naming laws include Germany, China and Japan.
20. Baby Walkers
Remember those super-rad baby walkers with all the flashing lights and cool accessories? You probably don’t. But if you’ve seen a kid using it, you can tell he’s having the time of his life. Well, that luxury doesn’t extend to children in Canada.
In 2004, Canada banned the manufacturing, importing, sale, and advertising of all baby walkers. Violating this law could result in a fine of up to $100,000 or up to six months in jail.
Why all the fuzz? Several studies suggest baby walkers impede motor development. They’re also dangerous. Health Canada reported that between 1990 and 2002, hospitals treated more than 1,900 babies for walker-related injuries. These accidents included kids crashing their walkers into stoves and falling down stairs.
With that said, you’ve probably been a badass since your toddler years if you had one.
Unless you were the perfect child, you got into some trouble as a kid. You were probably spanked for your mischievousness a couple times. And perhaps, your parents did so illegally.
At least 43 countries have outlawed spanking children.
Sweden became the first country to strip parents of their rights to spank children in 1979. Today, spanking is banned in various countries including New Zeeland, Brazil and Kenya. Of course, every country has its exceptions.
In Magnolia, kids can’t be hit at school; but, they can be hit in prison. In Columbia, hitting kids is only allowed in indigenous communities.
In December 2015, Canada’s prime minister announced plans to revoke a law allowing parents to spank their children.
18. Incandescent Light Bulbs
Is the world getting less bright? Throughout the globe, the once standard incandescent light bulb is being put out. Cuba became the first nation to completely ban incandescent light bulbs and switch to the dimmer yet more energy-efficiant fluorescent light bulb.
Venezuela, Brazil and Australia have also imposed similar bans.
In America and the European Union, the phase-out is ongoing. In 2007, the US Congress passed legislation that would require all light bulbs sold in the US to be 70 percent more efficient than those used in 2007. They would also have to produce a minimum of 45 lumens per watt. The EU phase-out launched in 2009.
Burgers in Russia may not be as meaty and juicy as their counterparts in America. That’s because the Kremlin has banned many of the drugs legally used in the U.S. to juice up cows before they’re grinded up for value meals. One of these boosters is Ractopamine.
Ractopamine is a controversial drug used to enhance leanness of pigs, cattle and Turkey. It’s banned in 160 countries including Russia. In 2013, Russia banned US pork and beef imports after claiming that health officials found traces of the drug in American meat products after Russia had already banned it.
The FDA reported adverse effects in ractomapine-injected pigs. These included trembling, broken limbs and even death. However, the FDA said their data didn’t indicate the drug directly caused these effects.
Ractopamine is still widely used throughout North American meat industries.
16. French Fries
This next one would send shivers down the spine of any freedom-loving American.
In 2011, France banned ketchup from high school and college cafeterias. French officials worried that students were tapping the bottle way too much and desecrating authentic French cuisine with the red menace.
To avoid riots and the onset of World War III, however, regulators allow small portions of ketchup to be served with – you guessed it – French Fries. Still, French Fries can only be served one a week. Students can’t even bring their own lunches to school. So, one can assume there’s an underground ketchup-smuggling ring in France’s school system.
The ban is part of a larger effort to cut down on fatty foods. Four out of five dishes must come with vegetables, and cafeterias must keep records of what is served for the food czars to inspect.
15. Plastic Bags
Believe it or not, walking out of your local grocery store with multiple plastic bags is a privilege. Plastic bags are banned or taxed in several countries throughout the world.
Denmark kicked off the wave of plastic-bag control by charging fees in 1993. In 2002, Bangladesh became the first country to ban plastic bags after they were damaging the country’s sewage system. The Philippines has a similar measure. In Rwanda, even victors have to relinquish some of their plastic bags.
In the United States, there are at least 133 anti-bag regulations with more in the works. By 2019, the European Union expects to have cut plastic-bag use by 80 percent.
Supporters of these bans site environmental concerns. According to environmentalists, plastic is the largest source of ocean litter and plastic bags contributed to ocean debris which kills 1 million sea birds and 100,000 mammals per year.
14. TV Ads for Kids
Children in Sweden probably aren’t coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs. They can’t taste the rainbow. And they can’t do the Dew, because TV advertising aimed at children under the age of 12 has been banned since 1991. Benevolent mascots for sugary cereals can’t even sneak their way into ads between cartoons, because all commercial sponsorship of children’s programming is banned.
Norway, Finland, and Quebec enforce similar measures. Britain outlaws TV and radio advertising for foods high in fat, salt, or sugar to kids under 16. Supporters of these bans argue that nefarious advertisers were corrupting kids by turning them into obese slobs hungry for fast food and the next big toy or gadget.
Still, popular children’s programming makes its way to Sweden. According to one study, many of these programs feature positive depictions of what these evil ads would have sold: candy, sugary drinks, and high-calorie snacks.
13. Weird Architecture
Do you aspire to be the world’s greatest architect? Do you find beauty and magic in structures that leave others scratching their heads? Well, don’t expect to get hired in China. In February 2016, the Chinese government announced it no longer will approve “unusual” building plans.
The move spearheads the government’s pledge to end the trend of “outlandish architecture” at the request of President Xi Jinping.
State media reported that “Bizarre architecture that is not economical, functional, or aesthetically pleasing” will be prohibited. However, structures that are “less wasteful” and use “fewer resources” will be encouraged.
So, don’t expect to see any more structures like the liquor-bottle shaped building for the Wuliangye Group, which whips up liquors like the Baijiu.
If you’re feeling baller and want to make it rain, don’t go to Iceland. Strip clubs have been banned there since 2010. Even topless bars won’t fly there. In Iceland, it’s illegal for any business to profit from the nudity of its employees.
Supporters of the ban praised it as a world-renowned victory for feminism. In fact, Iceland became the first country to ban strip clubs on feminist rather than religious grounds.
One would think the law applies to pornography, which has technically been illegal in Iceland for decades. However, the term was never strictly defined. So, it’s not enforced. In 2013, feminist groups sought to explicitly ban violent pornography.
If you’re a cigarette smoker, don’t ever go to Bhutan. The country enforces some of the strictest anti-tobacco regulations in the world. The sale of tobacco products is prohibited. Even candy and toys that resemble tobacco products are restricted.
Tobacco products can be imported for personal consumption. However, even these need to meet government guidelines. Imported cigarettes must display country of origin and health warnings. “Misleading” labels like “light” or “low-tar” are not allowed.
Citizens are allowed only 200 cigarettes or 150 grams of tobacco legally imported per month. Illegally possessing tobacco could mean a prison sentence of up to five years. A monk was charged with this offense in 2011.
The act of smoking is banned in most indoor and outdoor public places. Establishments such as bars can allow smoking but must set designated areas.
The main piece of legislation governing tobacco regulations is the Tobacco Control Act of Bhutan, which went into effect in 2010.
10. Blue Jeans
Everyone has a favorite pair of blue jeans, right?
You better not if you live in North Korea. Blue jeans are prohibited there along with anything else the authoritarian, freedom hating, nuclear-missile pointing regime wants to ban. Why? The communist government believes they are symbols of “American imperialism.”
In 2009, three Swedish entrepreneurs did the unthinkable. They persuaded a North Korean company to manufacture jeans for sale in Stockholm. But, the North Koreans stopped just short of making blue jeans. So, they decided on black jeans for the Noko line, which was eventually banned by a Stockholm department store.
Black jeans are ok in the DPRK, apparently. But, perhaps they’re only reserved for high-ranking party officials.
9. Reincarnating without government approval
This law serves as another way for the Chinese government to exert control over Tibetans, who worship living Buddhas and believe in reincarnation. Government officials want to select the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, the most important spiritual leader in Tibetan culture.
The current Dalai Lama has been in exile since 1959. The Chinese government has referred to this Nobel Peace Prize winner as a “wolf in monk’s clothing,” who is hell bent on dividing China. Tibetans believe he is the 14th reincarnation of a monk who lived in the 14th century.
Lamas, senior religious figures, are able to choose whether they’ll be reborn and where. Under Chinese law, only Buddhist monasteries can apply to be considered for reincarnation. Some experts suspect the Dalai Lama will choose to not reincarnate at all to prevent a government-appointed Lama.
Tibet is an autonomous region in China. However, it is heavily regulated by the Chinese government.
8. Game Consoles
The general population in China has a lot of catching up to do in the world of gaming. Up until 2015, game consoles were banned outside the Shanghai Free Trade Zone. Most gamers had to venture into the black market to get their hands on the Playstation 4 or Xbox One.
The ban on gaming consoles was enacted in 2000 to prevent what the ruling Communist Party called “adverse effects on the country’s youth.” This means the last major console the Chinese could legally play was Sega Dreamcast. The revolutionary Playstation 2 was just about to take the world by storm when the ban took effect.
Luckily for today’s youth, companies like Sony and Microsoft can make and sell their consoles throughout the country. However, the government will still regulate games as they do movies, TV and the Internet.
7. Claire Danes
While shooting “Brokedown Palace” in the slums of Manila in 1998, actress Claire Danes made some less-than favorable comments about the Philippines’ capital. Danes told reporters the city was rat-infested, ghastly, and “fuc*ing smelled like cockroaches.”
So, the city council decided to ban her and prevent theaters there from playing her movies.
The council proposed to lift the ban after she apologized, but it didn’t buy her apology. The ban remains today.
It’s not the only time Manila has retaliated against celebrities. In 2012, a congress member called for banning Justin Bieber after he posted Instagram photos ridiculing boxer and congressman Manny Pacquiao. In 1966, locals attacked the Beatles after they missed an appointment with the first lady.
6. Winnie the Pooh
Ever wonder why most cartoon bears don’t wear pants? Councilors in the Polish town of Tuszyn had a furious debate over this and decided to ban Winnie the Pooh from a local playground. Town officials said the bear’s lack of pants and genitals made him an inappropriate role model for children.
Pooh was proposed to be the face of a Tuszyn park, but councilors struck down the plan. During a heated town meeting in 2014, town officials ripped the honey-loving cartoon apart, and called him a “hermaphrodite.”
One even called his creator Alan Alexander Milne a “disturbing man” who cut off Pooh’s testicles with a razor blade because he was “uncomfortable with his identity.”
The council suggested an alternative: Misio Uszatek, a fully-dressed cartoon bear of Polish fame.
5. Emo Culture
Shortly before Russia went to war with Georgia in 2008, the Kremlin found yet another enemy: Emo kids.
Armed with eye liner and studded belts, these black-clad teenagers were plotting something in their Hot Topic bases throughout the West. But when emo fever came to Moscow, the government decided to take action.
So, officials proposed legislation to end these “dangerous teen trends.” They also warned that emo music’s “negative ideology” could lead to depression and even suicide.
Emo music emerged in Washington, D.C., during the mid ‘80s as an “emotional” take on punk rock. It resurged in the ‘00s with hit bands like My Chemical Romance. Ironically, legislatures grouped emo kids with their moshpit predator – the skin head.
Fortunately for emo kids, the law was never passed. Luckily for the government, they didn’t have to wait until 2020 to wipe out emo culture. It went away on its own. Emo kids of yesteryear have probably traded their Taking Back Sunday T-shirts for suits.
Next target, the hipster?
4. “Devil-Worshiping” Hair Styles
In Iran, dudes can’t go business in the front, party in the back. Mullets and other hairstyles were banned in 2010 in an attempt to rid the country of “un-Islamic” and “decadent” Western influence. Other styles that took the cut included the pony tail, and spiked hair.
The government even issued a style guide detailing appropriate cuts for men.
Plainclothes basij militia often deploy to malls to crackdown on potential violators. Even barbers who whip up these “homosexual” and “devil worshiping” hair styles could risk having their shops closed and barber licenses revoked.
The ban also extends to plucked eyebrows.
3. Valentine’s Day
Many Muslim clerics consider Valentine’s Day to be an unholy invention by the West to promote premarital sex and general debauchery. Several Muslim groups have staged protests against the holiday, which is heavily criticized or outright banned throughout several Arab countries.
In 2014, a Valentine’s Day celebration at a Pakistani university was met with rocks and gunfire from a group of students who viewed it as “un-Islamic.” Clashes broke out and dorm rooms were set on fire. That year in Malaysia, 80 people were arrested by morality police after authorities raided hotels where unmarried couples were sharing rooms on the holiday.
Saudi Arabia bans Valentine’s Day. In 2014, five men were sentenced to 4,500 lashes and 32 years in prison for drinking and dancing with “unrelated women” on the holiday.
Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia houses a black market for Valentine’s Day gifts. Shop owners have reported hiding flowers in backrooms and taking discrete orders over the phone. Some even hire lookouts to keep an eye out for authorities.
2. Gay Content on TV
China’s ruling communist party is infamous for attempts at censoring the country’s media, and it’s not easing its grip any time soon. In March 2016, the Chinese government introduced new regulations banning all homosexual content from television.
To the outrage of millions of viewers, it disallowed websites from continuing to stream the show “Addicted,” because it portrayed gay relationships.
Such content is now grouped with incest and sexual assault as material that “exaggerates the dark side of society.”
The new regulations will also ban content depicting adultery, underage relationships, and one-night-stands. The governmental body responsible for regulating the media said it would constantly monitor channels to make sure they meet party guidelines.
Don’t expect to hear of any marathons in Burundi, a country where jogging could land you in jail for life. President Pierre Nkurunziza banned group jogs in 2014, because he feared they were being used by an opposition group as a front for unauthorized demonstrations against the government.
On March 8, 2014, groups of people set out on their Saturday morning jogs throughout the capital of Bujumbura – a very common sight at the time.
Within minutes, security forces were dispersing several of these crowds with tear gas and rounding people up. Many belonged to the opposition group Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (MSD).
22 of these joggers received life sentences, while others got prison terms no shorter than five years.