Current Hot Topic for July 2018
Country Lines: The Children forced to sell drugs
About 4,000 teenagers are being exploited and trafficked every year to sell drugs in rural towns and cities, a leading youth charity says.
Known as “county lines”, gangs use children as young as 12 to traffic drugs, using dedicated mobile phones or “lines”.
Anti-Slavery Commissioner Kevin Hyland said the figures were “shocking” and the exploitation was only slowly being recognised.
It comes as the Home Office announced it was putting £300,000 into a new pilot project to help young victims.
Michael* was 13 years old when a friend at his school approached him about selling drugs. Lured in by the prospect of making money, he began selling in his local area, but things escalated quickly.
The gang was soon sending him on jobs out of London with the promise he could make around £500 a week. He was sent to the house of a vulnerable drug user that the gang had taken over in the Midlands, a practice known as cuckooing. Using this as his base, he was out on the street selling heroin and crack cocaine, day and night.
Frantic about his long absences, Michael’s family would try to stop him by taking away his mobile phone – but as soon as he left his house, the gang would start hassling him again.
In a case from Suffolk Police, a 16-year-old male had been reported as missing from London and was considered at risk due to his age and link to gangs.
He had recently failed to appear at court for his alleged involvement in a stabbing. He was found in possession of a 6-inch kitchen knife and 30 wraps of drugs.
Whilst in custody in Ipswich he was found to have significant burns to his body, on his stomach area, consistent with having been burnt by boiling liquid. He would not disclose further details; however, it was suspected this may have been caused by those responsible for placing him in Ipswich to deal in class A drugs.
The charity Safer London has dealt with many teenagers, who are exploited to sell drugs for older gang members. The charity’s chief executive, Claire Hubberstey, said a frightening number of young people were at risk of being involved in county lines dealing.
She wants all of these young people placed on the National Referral Mechanism – meaning they would be treated as victims of trafficking and modern slavery, rather than being treated as criminals.
“They are exploited children, and they are being manipulated. Even if they don’t see it, that doesn’t mean that it’s not happening”, she says.