Government officials have advised ministers that the perpetrators of low-level racial harassment are often found to be children aged between four and 10.
Now moves are afoot to extend new powers to deal with racist abuse and to stop unruly children drifting into crime. The Home Office is looking to make use of new orders, outlined in the Crime and Disorder Bill, that can restrict children's movements, and force parents to become more vigilant in their monitoring of their offspring's behaviour.
The extent of racism among youngsters was uncovered by Home Office researchers working in London boroughs. They found that Asian and Afro-Caribbean children and adults were subject to racist taunts and overt prejudice that the perpetrators had often learnt from their parents.
The researchers noted that in the case of some four- to 10-year-olds: "An integral part of the young boy or girl's language is the notion that people who are not white 'do not belong here' and 'should go back to their own country'."
Although the Child Safety Order and Parenting Order of the Crime and Disorder Bill were not specifically designed to tackle racism, government officials have advised that "both may be relevant in preventing racial harassment". The Child Safety Order will make children stay at home at certain times and compel them to keep away from certain places. The Parenting Order that is also proposed would require parents to attend guidance sessions, and make them accompany children to school. Curfews would keep troublesome children out of certain neighbourhoods.
Researchers found that many of the child racists were low achievers and bullies, who refuse to co-operate with children from ethnic minorities, especially by refusing to allow black or Asian children to sit next to them.
Officials uncovered a series of disturbing incidents. One family of children aged between four and 12 taunted a black neighbour over a prolonged period, shouting "black bastard" through his letter-box until late into the night. When the man, described as "at breaking point", complained to the children's parents they were equally abusive.
Some schools are already taking their own steps to address the problem. At Camp School, St Albans, pupils are encouraged to take part in discussions on skin colour, name- calling and representation of different ethnic groups in the media.
Ann Scorer, a teacher at the school, said: "We have a nursery here and there are children who come in and say 'I'm not allowed to touch him because he's brown'. They have picked it up from home. It's there right from nursery age."Reuse content