Charities have condemned the “shocking” number of children who have been strip searched by the Metropolitan Police without the presence of a suitable adult.
The overwhelming response to what they describe as ‘appalling’ actions by the forces comes after data obtained from Scotland Yard by the Children’s Commissioner showed some 650 children aged between 10 and 17 were strip searched by Met agents between 2018 and 2020.
Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza has been researching the figures after the Child Q scandal came to light in March, in which a 15-year-old schoolgirl who was menstruating was strip-searched by police in 2020 after being wrongly suspected of transporting cannabis. at school.
Iryna Pona, from the Children’s Society (TCS), said: “We are horrified by the number of children subjected to these searches and it is shocking that almost a quarter have taken place without the presence of a suitable adult.
“Strip searches are intrusive and traumatic, and children fail completely if even basic safeguards are not in place.”
Scotland Yard data showed that of the children, 58% were described by the officer as black and more than 95% were boys.
The TCS said it was “concerned” about the over-representation of black children in these strip search figures, which only adds to fears over race and children being treated as adults identified as issues in the Child Q case.
Ms Pona said: “Unfortunately, we often support children who have been groomed and coerced into crimes like drug trafficking in counties to be treated like adults who have made a deliberate decision, rather than offering support as victims of exploitation.”
Runnymede Trust chief executive Dr Halima Begum called the results “appalling”, adding that they “simply underline how our children are being abandoned by public institutions to protect them”.
Such “traumatic” encounters with the police where children are criminalized or treated as adults would have an “unforgivable” impact on their psychological well-being, according to Dr Begum.
She said: ‘These experiences are the main lens through which children see the police, and often their teachers too when these searches take place at school. It is the beginning of the loss of trust in the people and institutions that are supposed to be there to protect them and keep them safe.
“Children then build perceptions of who, if anything, supports and nurtures them and who penalizes them. This leads to a process of alienating children and young people from educational opportunities that they should otherwise pursue.
“Criminalization and adultification is traumatic, not inspiring. Our children need to be supported to believe that they can achieve anything they want in this life. We know their experiences couldn’t be further from that.
A spokesman for London Mayor Sadiq Khan said: ‘It is deeply concerning that there are so many cases of children being strip searched by the Met without the presence of a suitable adult, and there remain serious wider issues regarding the disproportionality and use of the judgment and research on young black boys.
“That needs to change and Sadiq has been absolutely clear with the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner about the extent of the improvements needed across the force so that every Londoner can feel both protected and served.
“He has also already asked the Met to conduct a review of all strip searches of children to ensure lessons are learned and pledges to hold them accountable for necessary improvements.”
The number of strip searches of children has increased every year, with 18% carried out in 2018, 36% in 2019 and 46% in 2020, figures obtained by the Children’s Commissioner show.
In almost a quarter (23%) of the cases, the strip searches took place without an “appropriate adult” confirming their presence.
This is required by law, except in an “emergency”, and this is usually a parent or guardian, but it can also be a social worker, carer or of a volunteer.
Two-thirds of them (70%) involved black boys.