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Hot Topic for July 2018 Country Lines: The Children forced to sell drugs

Current Hot Topic for July 2018

Country Lines: The Children forced to sell drugs


Country Lines: The Children forced to sell drugs

Background Story

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. inal-exploitation-of-children-and-vulnerable-adults-county-lines

Signs to Look Out For

To identify county lines exploitation, you should look out for those persistently going missing from school or home and/or being found out of the area, unexplained acquisition of money, clothes, or mobile phones, excessive receipt of texts and calls, relationships with controlling/older individuals or groups, leaving home/care with explanation, suspicion of physical assault, carrying weapons, significant decline in results or performance, gang association or isolation from peers and self-harm.

What should you do if you suspect someone you know could be at risk of harm? What procedures should you follow? What should you do if it is an emergency?

Social Groups Being Targeted by Criminal Gangs

The national picture on county lines continues to develop but there are recorded cases of children as young as 12 years old being exploited by gangs to courier drugs out of their local area; 15-16 years is the most common age range. Both males and females are being exploited. White British children are being targeted as gangs perceive they are more likely to evade police detection. Vulnerable Class A drug users are being targeted so that gangs can take over their homes to sell drugs from.

What can be done to bring together frontline professionals such as teachers, police officers and youth workers to support these social groups and prevent this from happening?

Travellers have been informed that public attitudes towards the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender + community in Russia are less tolerant than in the UK. The Football Supporters’ Federation has published a blog offering advice to LGBT+ fans planning to travel to Russia for the World Cup. Russia remains a difficult and dangerous place for sexual minorities. A vibrant gay scene exists in many of its major cities, and its younger generation is more tolerant. But several years of state-sponsored homophobia have had an effect on the general population. Since the controversial 2013 anti-gay law was passed, the number of recorded hate crimes has doubled. Polls also indicate a growing intolerance of LGBT communities. The director of the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) has said LGBT supporters would be wise to avoid public displays of affection in public given the danger of random attacks. Yet, Russia has given forceful assurances that people’s safety will be taken care of. Why do you think younger people are more tolerant than others? What are your opinions on the safety of individuals travelling to Russia for the world cup? What does the ‘+’ stand for in LGBT+? Who are Pride in Football? Conduct research into this and find out more about the 2013 law “for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values”, also known in English-language media as the “gay propaganda law”.

Keeping Children and Young People Safe from Physical Violence and Emotional Harm

Gangs will often use intimidation, violence and weapons, including knives, corrosives and firearms to control the young people they have targeted. They will be coerced or threatened into carrying out criminal activity for the benefit of others. Victims are often fearful of getting into trouble themselves – for the very actions they have been exploited into carrying out – so it can also be difficult to get these young people to come forward and speak out about their situation. This can have a devastating impact on vulnerable young people, their families and local communities.

What could be the short term and long-term impact on these young people? What impact will this have on the safety of the community? Do you think these young people should be prosecuted for their actions or treated as victims? Why?

Rule of Law – The Government Response to Criminal Exploitation: County Lines

Last summer, the children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, said pupils should receive lessons as part of the national curriculum on how to avoid being targeted by gangs and older criminals. The Department for Education’s statutory safeguarding guidance – Keeping Children Safe in Education has been updated and from September 2018 will now include a section on “county lines” exploitation. Proposed changes to the Digital Economy Bill mean that police can physically close down the mobile phone lines used to sell drugs.

Do you agree it is important to educate children against this type of exploitation? What else do you think the government or police could do to support those at risk?

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