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Home > Counting lives. Responding to children who are criminally exploited.

Turner, Alexandra and Belcher, Lucy and Pona, Iryna (2019) Counting lives. Responding to children who are criminally exploited. London: The Children's Society.

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We hear from children being criminally exploited in many ways: forced to work in cannabis factories, coerced into moving drugs across the country, forced to shoplift, pickpocket or threaten violence against others. Children are being cynically exploited with the promise of money, drugs, status and affection. They’re being controlled using threats, violence and sexual abuse, leaving them traumatised and living in fear. In this report, we find that 14 to 17 year olds are the most likely age group to be exploited by criminal gangs. We uncover alarming evidence of primary school children as young as even or eight being targeted and exploited. But children of all ages are at risk, and the number of 10 to 17 year olds arrested for intent to supply drugs has gone up by almost 50% outside London.

This report suggests that the criminals are winning, and professionals are struggling to keep up with the scale and context of criminal exploitation. The response from statutory agencies is too variable and often comes too late. Children are being too easily criminalised, and are not viewed as victims of exploitation. There is also a concerning lack of data and reporting about children at risk of criminal exploitation. There is no easy solution to eradicate child criminal exploitation, but we can and must do more. We need earlier help for children at risk, responses that see children as victims and not criminalised, and joined-up national and local responses. Through coordinated, concerted efforts across statutory and voluntary sectors, and by working with local communities and families, we can reach vulnerable young people earlier and begin to disrupt the criminal exploitation of children.


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