Primary-age children guilty of racial harassment could be put on curfew under new legislation.
The Child Safety, Anti-Social Behaviour and Parenting orders in the Crime and Disorder Bill are designed to restrict the movements of children under the age of ten who are at risk of becoming involved in anti-social or criminal behaviour and to help parents to keep them out of trouble.
According to Rae Sibbitt, a senior research officer in the race relations research section of the Home Office and author of a report on the perpetrators of racial harassment and violence, the orders may also be used to tackle "low-level racial harassment".
Her report, which draws on case studies from two London boroughs, includes documentation of prejudiced behaviour and harassment among nursery and primary school children. This ranges from refusing to co-operate or sit next to black or ethnic-minority children to name-calling. In the streets and on the estates, children as young as five and six were involved in racial harassment and verbal abuse, sometimes led by their parents.
Even though the schools in the study had racial harassment policies, they found it was difficult to identify racist intent. This was especially true in mixed areas, where pupils often segregate themselves into racial groupings.
According to a spokesperson from the Department for Education and Employment, the Crime and Disorder Bill does not relate to racist incidents in schools.
"It is up to schools to be managing anti-social behaviour within the school environment. All schools have to have a behaviour policy with clear guidelines by law. But the Bill may apply before and after school."