Can the police handcuff a child?

Using handcuffs on a child – or any other kind of physical force – should only happen when absolutely necessary, like to stop that child harming themselves or someone else.

It should also only happen as a last resort and for the shortest possible time.

Your rights

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) says that no child should be deprived of their liberty in a way that is against the law except under very specific circumstances. It says you must be treated with humanity and respect for your dignity in a way that takes into account your age and ability.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child says in their General Comment 24 that a child can only be restrained when there is an immediate threat of injury to themselves or others and only when everything else has been tried.


Someone is deprived of their liberty when they are kept somewhere and not allowed to leave, under constant supervision and control.


Restraint means holding a child or young person to stop them from moving.

Seclusion means shutting a child somewhere alone and not allowing them to leave.

What you can do

If you believe you have been illegally restrained you can make a complaint about your treatment to Police Scotland. If you’re not happy with the decision they make, you can ask the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner to look at your complaint again.


If you have a complaint about the police you can contact Police Scotland online, by post, by telephone, or in person at a police station. Information about how to make a complaint can be found here.

If your complaint is about a senior police officer you can make a complaint to the Scottish Police Authority.

If you are not happy with the response to a complaint, you can ask the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC) to review the way your complaint was handled.


If you are a child or a young person and would like advice and information from the Commissioner’s office – or to tell us something you’re worried about – you can contact us:

  • using the form at the bottom of our website
  • emailing us at
  • texting 0770 233 5720 (Texts will be charged at your standard network rate)
  • calling our children and young people’s freephone on 0800 019 1179.

We can also give advice and information about children’s rights issues to adults—please contact us on or through using our contact form.

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