Hundreds of children under 10 subject to stop and search in England and Wales

<span>Police officers conduct a stop and search in London. New figures show the number of searches on children under 10 has significantly increased since 2014.</span><span>Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images</span>
Police officers conduct a stop and search in London. New figures show the number of searches on children under 10 has significantly increased since 2014.Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images

Hundreds of children under 10 faced stop and search by police last year, including some who were strip-searched, the Observer can reveal.

At least 432 children under the age of criminal responsibility were searched by the police forces in England and Wales in 2023, according to, an official site for open data on crime and policing.

Nearly a quarter of all the searches were conducted on those from black, Asian, or other minority ethnic backgrounds – disproportionately high compared with population representation.

The vast majority of the stop and searches – 79% – led to no further action from officers, either formal or informal. The highest number of searches on children under 10 was logged by Avon and Somerset police – at 117 – followed by Kent and the Metropolitan police.

The Observer was able to identify two forces – Kent as well as Devon and Cornwall – which had recorded strip-searches on children under 10 – classed in data as stop and searches where officers removed “more than just outer clothing” of the person being searched.

More than 200 of the searches related to illicit drugs, while 87 related to suspicions of carrying offensive weapons.

Earlier this month, policing minister Chris Philp said stop and searches were “not used nearly often enough” by police, and more were needed to adequately address knife crime.

The last time the issue was examined in 2014, a parliamentary inquiry found some 22 police forces had searched 1,136 children younger than 10 between 2009 and 2013 – an average of 227 a year.

In 2023, nine police forces had incomplete stop and search data or had failed to record the ages of those they were searching.

A further 11, including the Metropolitan police, had completely or partially failed to log whether they had strip-searched the children in question.

More than a quarter of the searches that were logged by police forces did not list any outcome or action taken by officers.

While children under 10 cannot be charged with a crime if they break the law, they can still be subject to informal interventions or formal safety orders from the police. In some cases, their parents or guardians can also be held criminally liable or they can be taken into care.

Police reform campaign group Stop Watch said that using stop and search on children younger than ten was “nothing short of a human rights violation”. “Children’s vulnerability to psychological suffering and intimidation during and in the aftermath of a strip-search in particular cannot be overstated. The police cannot undo the trauma they cause,” it said.

“Law enforcement measures currently in place do not meet these standards and therefore cannot be seen as an effective way of safeguarding them. Children should be able to live a police-free childhood as far as possible.”

Last month, the Observer revealed that thousands of children under the age of 18 had been strip-searched by police in England and Wales last year, with black, Asian and mixed race children significantly more likely to be targeted.

The Home Office said that the stop and search data on, which is compiled from police forces’ systems and used to inform their internal decision-making, is “not subject to the same level of quality assurance as Home Office-published official statistics”, which had only verified 64 stop and searches on those under 10 in 2022-2023.

It added that “stop and search is a vital tool for tackling crime and protecting communities” and that “safeguards exist to protect children who are subject to stop and search, and police have a legal duty to consider children’s safety and welfare”.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council did not respond to a request for comment.