Children arrested by Police in 2020-21

Children arrested by Police in 2020/21
12 Dec 2022


This report will help us to understand more about children who offend and opportunities for change.

This study informs work considering changes to the minimum age of criminal responsibility. The data provides an understanding of this group of children and what their behaviour means for developing possible new legislative settings if the minimum age of criminal responsibility is increased.


The Evidence Centre requested data from New Zealand Police on all children under the age of 14 years who were arrested without warrant between 1 July 2020 and 30 June 2021. This includes all arrests made on the grounds specified in s214(1), s214(2) and s214A of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989.

After arrest, the child is either taken to a police station for further questioning or taken home and released from police custody. Children taken to a police station will usually be released after questioning given the limitations to prosecution.

The Police data included demographics for each child, the police station where the child was taken or where the arresting officer was from (mapped to police district), the reasons for arrest, the offences or incidents4 involved, and notes on each arrest.

Prioritised ethnicity was not recorded in the Police data for 66 arrests but was imputed for 55 of these arrests using ethnicity information held by Oranga Tamariki. Police station/district was not recorded for 61 arrests but was imputed for 59 arrests using location-related information from the arrest notes.

Key Results

There were 953 arrests of 491 distinct children aged under 14 in this period. One-third of the 491 children were arrested more than once within the year.

Over three-quarters of the 953 arrests involved children who were male (79%), Māori (79%), or aged 12 or 13 years (90%).

The arrest rate relative to the population of children was very high in Greater Auckland, 58% of arrests were in Greater Auckland, but only a third of all children aged 10 to 13 years live there.

Over half of the children arrested were involved in a stolen vehicle offence and 11% were arrested for failing to stop for police (usually in a stolen vehicle). The data did not indicate whether the child was the driver or a passenger.

There were considerable differences in the offences that led to arrest according to gender and ethnicity. Males were more likely to be arrested for car theft, while females were more likely to be arrested for assault, shoplifting or other forms of theft.

Pacific and Māori children were more likely than European/other children to be arrested for a stolen vehicle or failing to stop for police offence. European/other children were more likely to be arrested for assault or property damage.

For nearly all arrests, the police officer was satisfied that it was necessary to prevent the child from committing further offences. There can be more than one reason for arrest, with the next most common being to prevent the loss or destruction of evidence (28%).

Page last modified: 13 Nov 2023