Policing powers are under scrutiny as government figures reveal more than 1,000 children in England and Wales under the age of 10 have been subject to stop and search over the last five years
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children found that 22 police forces had carried out 1,136 stop and searches on children under the age of criminal responsibility between 2009 and 2013.
The report is based on unpublished data that was requested from 46 police forces during an 18 month inquiry into the relationship between children and the police.
In 19 of these forces, a quarter of stops were on children including hundreds of under 10s.
“We were surprised to find that despite the fact so many children are being stopped and searched by the police there is no practice guidance to inform how to deal with children, particularly those who are young or vulnerable,” said Baroness Massey of Darwen, chair of the All Party Group for Children, in the report.
“Many of these children will be in need of care and protection, possibly fleeing from sexual predators or gang violence. The police need to make sure that they don't see children as small adults and do more to ensure they always adopt an age appropriate response to every child.”
Enver Solomon, director of evidence and impact at the National Children's Bureau, which runs the secretariat for the all-party group, also said in the report: “The inquiry is shining a light on how the police interact with children and finding that there is a need for a new approach.”
“The police should review how they deal with children and ensure they are always treated as having distinct, separate needs from adults.”
Natasha Dhumma, youth coordinator for the advocacy group StopWatch, said: “We have long been concerned that police officers are searching so many vulnerable children with little-to-no guidance on how to deal with them.”
“It must be recognized that the decision to stop and search a young person can have a significant and detrimental effect on them, especially those who are repeatedly stopped and searched, and goes to the very heart of issues of child protection and welfare.”
“The children and young people we work with often express their deep fear of the police, and it is quite shocking that there are no safeguards in place to protect children in such situations.”
UK Home Secretary Theresa May told MPs in April that as many as a quarter of a million street searches of citizens of all ages last year were probably carried out illegally. She called for a “comprehensive package” of reforms.
Her proposed reforms include a revised code of practice, making clear what constitutes “reasonable grounds for suspicion” under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, with disciplinary proceedings for non-compliance.
The policy proposals also aim to open stop and search records to public scrutiny, encourage accountability and make improvements to officer training.
“We are clear that the powers of stop and search are vital in the fight against crime,” a Home Office spokesperson said. “However, when it is misused stop and search can be counter-productive and a waste of police time.”
Following an extensive consultation, the Home Secretary announced a comprehensive package for reform of the use of stop and search.
“We believe this will contribute to a significant reduction in the overall use of stop and search, better and more intelligence-led stop and search and improved stop-to-arrest ratios. However, if this situation does not improve the Government will return with primary legislation to ensure that this happens.”