According to an official report, children are becoming targets for strip searches by the UK police, with the youngest child being eight-years-old. Children have been searched in the back of police vans, schools, and fast-food outlets.
The report by Dame Rachel De Souza, Children's Commissioner, reveals that 2,847 children were strip-searched in England and Wales, with black children targeted six times more than any other children. The searches were conducted with an officer present of a different gender to the child being searched, and 52% of these searches took place in the absence of an appropriate adult, which is a legal requirement. The vast majority were boys; black boys made up for more than a third (37%) of strip searches. In half of these searches, nothing suspicious was found.
De Souza added, “My findings include evidence of widespread non-compliance with the statutory safeguards to protect children, including the lack of appropriate adults in more than half of searches, and strip-searches being conducted in schools, police vehicles and within public view.
The children’s commissioner said the discrimination was “deeply concerning” and “utterly unacceptable,” while the leader of black police officers said it was another example of institutional racism. This claim, however, is denied by the police.
The study was conducted after an investigation was launched after a 15-year-old girl in London was searched under the suspicion she had marijuana. The girl, who is black, was searched by two female officers without another adult present. The teenager was on her period and had to spread her buttocks when strip-searched.
Commenting on the report, the president of the National Black Police Association, Andy George, said, “All children deserve protection and safeguarding. It is shocking that young Black boys are disproportionately subject to strip searches, often without an adult present. We hope that guidelines on strip searches can be tightened and the issue of racial disparity is taken seriously by all chief constables.”
According to De Souza, strip searches may be necessary, but strict rules are to be followed to protect the children. She made seventeen recommendations, including a review of the legislation and policy by the Home Office for searches and making precise changes to police and criminal evidence codes.
“Strip search is one of the most intrusive powers available to the police,” a spokesperson from the Home Office said. “No one should be subject to a strip search based on race or ethnicity, and safeguards exist to prevent this.”
De Souza also called on the National Police Chiefs’ Council to publish a plan to reform child searches. Chief Constable Craig Guildford from the NPCC said the council welcomed the scrutiny and would consider the findings. He added that the NPCC was working with other policing bodies to implement a positive change. The Home Office also said nobody should be strip-searched because of their race and ethnicity, and there were safeguards to prevent this.
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