Girls as young as 12 and 13 are being strip-searched by NSW Police, with the intervention increasing by 30 per cent for females aged under 17, as experts called for an immediate end to the “barbaric act”.
From July 2022 to June 2023, three primary-school-aged girls and six 13-year-old girls were strip-searched, meaning they had to remove or move clothing because police believed they were concealing drugs or a weapon.
The powers were used on 107 children during 2021-22 and 2022-23, with the youngest boy subjected to the intervention aged 14. More than 20 per cent of the children searched were Indigenous.
The data, obtained by freedom of information laws by Redfern Legal Centre, revealed the use of strip-searches on young girls jumped from seven to 25 between 2021-22 and 2022-23.
NSW Police are only permitted to carry out a strip-search if the situation is serious or commands urgency. It is not clear if a parent or guardian was with any of the children at the time of the searches, but if police believe a search needs to be done immediately for safety reasons or to prevent evidence from being destroyed, they can use the power without adult consent.
Redfern Legal Centre senior solicitor Samantha Lee said the data showed that the intervention was being used as a routine practice of police and not as the law intended, and hoped the updated legislation would mean that the need for strip-search was minimised.
“No child should be allowed to strip down naked in front of an adult, even, police or no police, and in the majority of strip-searches they find absolutely nothing. So it’s highly likely that these strip-searches are occurring for no reason and the child has done absolutely nothing wrong,” she said.
“I cannot understand how children in NSW can be strip-searched in 2023. It’s just barbaric, it fails to adhere to any child protection or child safety principles. It’s harmful, invasive and it’s child abuse.”