Children as young as eight are being strip-searched by police in the United Kingdom, according to a new report that detailed almost 3,000 searches of minors in England and Wales over four years, with children of color prime targets.
The scathing report released on Monday by Children's Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza reveals that 2,847 children were searched in England and Wales between 2018 and mid-2022.
It showed 52 percent of strip-searches took place without an appropriate adult present, which is required by law except in situations of "urgency".
According to the report, black children accounted for more than a third of the searches, making them more than six times more likely to be strip-searched compared with the country's total child population.
De Souza slammed the findings as "utterly unacceptable" and said strip-searching children was an "intrusive and potentially traumatic power" which must be subject to "robust safeguards".
"Our children are being failed by the state institutions there to protect them," the Runnymede Trust, a race equality think tank, said in a statement.
The findings follow last week's report that said London's Metropolitan Police Service, the biggest police force in Britain, is riddled with deep-seated racism and misogyny.
De Souza's report was launched after a Black 15-year-old girl, identified as “Child Q”, was strip-searched at her school in 2020 by two female officers without another adult present.
She was suspected of having marijuana but no drugs were found with her, drawing widespread national outrage.
“The bravery of a girl to speak up about a traumatic thing that happened to her” led to the report that found “widespread noncompliance” of safeguards and evidence of a “deeply concerning practice,” de Souza said.
According to the report, the searches were conducted in places that were often inappropriate such as outside fast food outlets and amusement parks, in the back of police vans, in schools, and sometimes even within public view.
The report also said more than half of the searches took place without an appropriate adult present.
De Souza made 17 recommendations around strengthening safeguards to protect children, urging the Home Office to review legislation and policy for searches and make specific changes to police and criminal evidence codes.
She also called on the National Police Chief’s Council to publish a plan to reform child searches.
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