About 420 boys and girls aged between 12 and 15 held in secure homes across Britain are being subjected to the searches. Most have been convicted of crimes and given custodial sentences but are too young for young offenders' institutions or prison. Others are held while they await trial.
The government accepted last week that strip searches were common at many of Britain's 31 secure homes and admitted that there were no rules governing the practice. In a parliamentary written answer, prisons minister Paul Goggins said that forcible strip searching was routine when they first arrived at homes.
He said: 'Each home operates its own policy according to security needs. Some homes do not strip any young persons, while others search all new arrivals. The methods used to perform a strip search are also decided by each centre without central guidance'.
The minister's admission provoked strong protests. Liz Atkins, head of policy at the National Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said she was horrified there were no rules and that 12-year-olds could be forced to strip by complete strangers without any safeguards.
Rudi Vis, Labour MP for Finchley and Golders Green, who asked the parliamentary question that prompted the minister's answer, said: 'I am shocked that this practice continues without any regulation. For some children this must be degradingly inhumane. We should apply the same standards throughout the criminal justice system'.
Dr Vis said that parents of children forcibly strip searched could use the Human Rights Act 2000 to stop staff from carrying out future searches and to win compensation.