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Black children much more likely to be strip-searched in England and Wales schools than white peers

An official report accuses police of abusing their power to strip-search children, with black children much more likely than white children to be selected by officers for the ordeal.

Data collected by the office of the children’s commissioner found there were at least 2,847 recorded strip-searches of children pre-arrest across England and Wales between 2018 and 2022 under stop and search powers.

The report to be released on Monday says 38% of children strip-searched were black. Black children make up 5.9% of the population, meaning they were six times over-represented.

The youngest child strip-searched was eight, and about a quarter were 10-15, the report will say.

The children’s commissioner, Rachel de Souza, said she was shocked by the ethnic disproportionality, while the president of the National Black Police Association, Insp Andy George, said it was another example of institutional racism – which police leaders deny exists.

Last week a report by Louise Casey found the Metropolitan police to be institutionally racist and riddled with discrimination that was “baked in”.

The children commissioner’s study found police not following the rules in more than half of strip-searches, amounting to widespread non-compliance. In more than half of cases there was no appropriate adult present..

A small number of strip-searches of children took place in public view, the report says, and some were conducted with an officer present of a different gender to the child being stripped.

Last year there was outrage over the case of Child Q, a 15-year-old girl in London who while on her period was pulled out of class, told to spread her buttocks and strip-searched.

The NBPA’s George said of the new report: “It is yet another example of institutional racism which is adversely impacting children across England and Wales. Chief constables must be braver in acknowledging the existence of institutional racism if we ever hope to stop this cycle of low confidence with the Black community.

“All children deserve protection and safeguarding. It is shocking that young Black boys are so 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.”

The report will say the practice is not just limited to the Met, and it will make recommendations for the rules to be tightened.

A recent poll found black children’s trust in the police was at 36%, half that of white children.

The Casey report said strip-searching as done by the Met was an example of “over-policing and disproportionate use of powers against certain communities” and may be due to “‘adultification’, where Black children are treated as adults and as a threat, therefore justifying greater use of force or intrusive interventions”.

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