KIDS as young as seven are being drawn into the brutal county lines drug trade, a shocking report warns today.
Gangs are ‘scouting’ for ‘naughty’ primary school children who are being persuaded to steal fruit as an initiation before going on to take drugs from big cities to customers in rural areas.
They target kids who are “already pushing societal expectations and boundaries like throwing stones through windows, or who are perceived to be ‘easily convinced””.
Children living in poverty, from broken homes or excluded from school may be deliberately targeted, the disturbing report by The Children’s Society found.
However, it found there was an “emerging trend” of potential victims that were “unknown to social care and who came from comparatively affluent backgrounds”.
The report warned kids can be abused as a way to control them.
A charity worker said: “Boys will be forced to touch someone, threatened with violence or be pictured kissing one of their friends or something, and that will be used then as a way to control them”.
Another method used by gangs is putting the child into “bondage” by faking a debt.
The report said: “When on the periphery of the criminal group, they may be asked to carry or hold something of value – as a sign of trust.
“At this point, the young person will be robbed or jumped and unable to pay or give the item back, placing them in debt with the perpetrator.
“Unbeknownst to the young person, these robberies are often contrived by the criminal groups as a way of debt bondage.”
Kids are made to insert drugs inside their bodies, presenting serious health risks.
The report urges the Home Office to consider a new criminal offense outlawing the practice of making a child carry drugs within his or her body, through an amendment to the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
It also asks the Home Office to amend the Modern Slavery Act of 2015 to include a definition of child criminal exploitation.
More than 1,500 county line gangs are believed to operate in Britain, making an estimated £1.8billion annual profit between them, and it has been linked to the escalation in knife crime across the UK.
Children are being told to ‘act out’ in school, such as flouting uniform rules, so they can purposely be excluded from classes to do ‘shift work’ dealing drugs.
Nick Roseveare, CEO of the Children’s Society, said: “Children are being cynically exploited with the promise of money, drugs, status, and affection.
“They are then controlled using threats, violence, and sexual abuse, leaving them traumatized and living in fear.”
This includes rape threats towards the sisters of child victims, threats using knives and guns and gangs committing violence in front of children so they know “what that person is capable of”.
Criminals use Snapchat or geo-tracking apps to monitor kids they have enslaved.
The charity said it had spoken to a council worker who said they were working with a seven-year-old victim who had been exploited by a gang.
In another area of the UK, a youth worker said that when they challenged an eight-year-old boy’s mother about his “grafting”, she replied: “Well, we need money.”
The report warned because 10 is the age of criminal responsibility, there was a “lack of recognition” of younger children’s roles.
One deputy head from a Manchester primary school told the charity: “There are a couple of children we know of who are ten and younger who have been caught up in this.
“They’re easy targets as they’re seen as sweet and small and because of this they don’t get caught or end up in as much trouble as older children.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Tackling county lines is a key government priority and we are determined to disrupt the gangs that are devastating our communities and put an end to the violence and exploitation of vulnerable children.” SUN