About ten children a week had DNA samples taken from them by Northamptonshire Police during 2010 and 2011, figures have revealed.
The Howard League for Penal Reform charity said officers took swabs from 496 boys and girls aged under 17 during 2011, and from 666 in 2010,
They included 16 primary school-age children – three 10-year-olds and 13 11-year-olds.
The charity says that many of the children required to give a sample will not have been charged with a criminal offence.
Under current rules, police can retain indefinitely the DNA of anyone they arrest for a recordable offence. A new law, imposing tighter restrictions on DNA retention, is expected to come into force later this year.
About 30 per cent of the child DNA samples taken by police come from girls.
Under the DNA provisions of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, expected to come into force in October 2013, if a child is arrested or charged in connection with a serious offence but not convicted, their DNA sample will be held for a maximum of five years. If a child is arrested or charged in connection with a minor offence but not convicted, police will be unable to retain their DNA.
Children convicted of serious offences may have their DNA samples retained indefinitely.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “When public money is tight and police forces are shrinking, it is disappointing to see valuable crime-fighting resources being wasted on taking DNA samples from thousands of innocent children while serious offences go undetected.
“Children who get into trouble with the police are usually just up to mischief. Treating so many like hardened criminals by taking their DNA seems excessive.
“We welcome the government’s decision to stop storing innocent people’s DNA indefinitely, but it remains unclear how this will affect the number of children having their DNA taken needlessly.”