England and Wales: Strip searches of black children more common

Status: 03/27/2023 09:00 a.m

Police in England and Wales disproportionately search black children for drugs or weapons, according to the Child Welfare Commissioner. There is evidence of a “deeply concerning practice” and violations of the law.

In England and Wales, as a percentage of the population, black children are six times more likely than their white peers to be searched by the police. The responsible child protection officer Rachel de Souza came to this conclusion in one go investigation report.

According to this, between 2018 and mid-2022 police officers in England and Wales carried out a total of 2,847 strip searches of children and young people aged 10 to 17 years. In more than half of the cases no adult confidant was present. Boys were searched in 95 percent.

De Souza spoke of “evidence of a deeply concerning practice” with “widespread non-compliance” with legal protections. Children and young people are being abandoned by those who have to protect them, she criticized and called for a reform plan from the police.

Report: Places often inappropriate

In the vast majority of cases (86 percent), those being searched are suspected of having drugs with them. Nine percent revolve around guns and two percent around theft. In almost a quarter of the cases, the suspected objects were not found.

According to the report, children as young as eight years old were also searched in places unacceptable for strip searches, such as amusement parks, vehicles and sometimes in full view of the public. In some cases, at least one officer of a different gender than the child was present.

The child protection officer’s analysis was commissioned after a 15-year-old black girl was forced to remove her clothes at her London school even though she was on her period. The student was searched for drugs and her parents were not informed. Teachers are said not to have been there either – and drugs were ultimately not found.

The girl’s courage to speak out about the traumatic event led to the publication, which shows widespread non-compliance with guidelines, the child protection officer said.

Restriction of powers required

In the course of the report, allegations of discrimination and humiliation have again been made against the British police. Just a week ago, an investigative report criticized institutional racism in the London police force.

The Church of England charity, The Children’s Society, said the findings of the now-released report showed black children were disproportionately exposed to “this traumatising and intrusive practice.”

The think tank Charity Runnymede Trust has called for the strip search powers of the police to be removed. “Negative, tyrannical encounters with state institutions only breed further suspicion and are the reason police fail in our communities,” the organization said.

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