Children as young as seven are being groomed and exploited to commit crimes such as placing drugs inside of their bodies to move them around the country, yet are treated as criminals not victims, said Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham during Prime Ministers Questions today.
A report published last week by The Children’s Society titled ‘Counting Lives – Disrupting Child Criminal Exploitation’ found that just one third of local authorities have a strategy in place to tackle child criminal exploitation, and that it is a direct result of a lack of national guidance.
Organised criminal networks are exporting drugs to rural or coastal areas couriered by exploited children and vulnerable young adults, and there are also reports that children are deliberately getting themselves sent home from school or excluded so that they cannot miss a ‘shift’.
In his question to the Prime Minister, Alex asked:
“There is also a sad lack of support for children being exploited. If the Prime Minister wants to secure any legacy of tackling modern day slavery, will she instruct the Home Secretary to develop a cross-departmental strategy to tackle this despicable crime and end the criminalisation of these vulnerable youngsters?”
Responding to Alex, the Prime Minister Theresa May said:
“We are continuing our work on tackling modern slavery. I was pleased that the Government responded to the independent review of the modern slavery act, and we have taken on board the majority of the recommendations from that independent review. This includes looking at the independent child guardians that we have created, looking at how they can give support.
“The issue that he references of criminalisation of those that have been forced to undertake criminal activities was addressed in the Modern Slavery Act when it was put through this house. But we continue to look at what more we can do to ensure we are bringing an end to this crime, not just in the UK, but internationally as well.”
Sam Royston, Director of Policy and Research at The Children’s Society, said:
“These children are being groomed with promises of money, drugs, status and affection before being exploited to courier drugs and then controlled through terrifying threats, violence and sexual abuse.
“Yet our new research found a postcode lottery in the response from police forces and councils, with many failing to record data on the issue. Children are too often criminalised and even when they are recognised as victims they may not get the help they need.
“That’s why we want the Government to define child criminal exploitation in law, ensure those affected have access to an advocate to ensure they are supported as victims, and close the £3billion funding gap for children’s services so that councils have the funding they need to identify and support children at risk.”