We welcome the Children’s Commissioner for England report and are deeply concerned by its findings. We believe that the practice of strip-searching children must be stopped immediately. The report confirms that children across England and Wales have been searched by police officers, and that strip searches have been carried out where officers failed to adhere to the requirements of statutory guidance on the exercise of Stop and Search powers.[i]
The Children’s Commissioner for England’s report states that 2, 847 children (aged 8-17 years) were strip searched between 2018 and 2022. 25% of these searches were on children under the age of 16, and some on children as young as 8 years. The report also states that, in 51% of these cases, no further action was taken against the child.
39 out of the 43 police forces in England and Wales provided data to the Commissioner. Data from police forces in Wales shows that, in 2018-2022, there were 134 strip searches of children. North Wales Police Force recorded 12 searches, and Gwent Police Force 14 searches. These figures are concerning. Alarmingly, the South Wales Police Force reported strip searching 108 children: a figure above the national average for England and Wales. Dyfed-Powys Police Force did not provide data.
We believe it should be mandatory that all police forces in Wales monitor and report on strip searches of children, including evidencing how they have complied with relevant statutory requirements.
In clear breach of the statutory guidance, the Commissioner’s report notes:
- Black children are 6 times more likely to be strip-searched;
- In 53% of strip searches, no appropriate adult was present;
- In 45% of cases, the location of the strip search was not recorded;
- 6% of strip searches were conducted with at least one officer of a different gender (to the child) present.
The findings in the Children’s Commissioner for England’s report are even more concerning when read in the light of broader concerns regarding institutional racism, homophobia, misogyny and abuse of police powers as outlined in the Casey Report.
The Children’s Legal Centre Wales argues that:
- Strip search of children is a violation of children’s rights and should be seen as inhuman and degrading treatment;
- Instead of traumatising children, all children, including those who may be involved in offending behaviour, should be treated as ‘children’ first with dignity and respect;
- In Wales, strip search is contrary to the nation’s commitment to the UNCRC and Wales-only legislation that promotes children’s rights;
- Police powers on strip search should be urgently reviewed and the practice of strip search of children brought to an end;
- There should be investment in alternatives to strip search (including alternative technologies) that can be used to keep children safe from harm, and at the same time respect their rights.
[i] Please see blog ‘Strip search of children: a violation of children’s rights’ by Dr Rhian Croke, Children’s Rights Strategic Litigation and Policy Advocacy Lead for Children’s Legal Centre Wales, that refers to data – collected by UK Home Office as part of the Annual Data Requirement – on strip search of children in custody.