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Resource:  Download the "Heading Back To Harm Report" examining the problem of unaccompanied child migrants that may have been trafficked and other children that may have been exploited, absconding from care. 

Exploitation of Children 

One in five victims of human trafficking are children. In Moldova, Bulgaria and Albania children have been more likely to be victims of trafficking for labour, begging and criminal activities than sexual exploitation. Over time, countries such as Romania have seen an increase in children trafficked for begging and criminal activities (Surtess, 2005). In poorer regions and sub-regions, such as Africa and Greater Mekong, children make up the majority of trafficked persons (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 2015). 
The trafficking (movement ) of children for the purposes of exploitatio is also a significant probelm within the UK both in terms of children being trafficked out of the country and trafficked within it. The most common forms of child exploitation within the UK are sexual exploitation and criminal exploitation (e.g. forced labour in cannabis factories, drug running, street crime and forced begging). 

Facts and Figures  

Scale Of The Problem of Cannabis Cultivation 
According to Anti-Slavery, this is the most prevalent form of child trafficking in the UK and the NRM consistently identifies Vietnam as the most common source country. Of the victims of exploitation for cannabis cultivation identified as originating from Vietnam (which accounted for 96% of the sample), 81% were children (SOC Strategic Analysis Team, 2014). 
Although there is evidence that production of cannabis is shifting from Vietnamese organised crime groups to White British and Albanian gangs, the children that are trafficked for this purpose are still mostly from Vietnam (Brotherton & Waters). It should be noted that these figures only concern children that have been trafficked for the purposes of Cannabis Cultivation and does not incorporate children and young people involved in other drug related crimes as a result of exploitation by gangs. 
Scale of the Problem of Street Crime and Begging 
This type of criminal exploitation of children has involved children from within the UK and also children trafficked into the UK from abroad. These children most commonly come from central and Eastern Europe, particularly Roma Children from Romania and Hungary. This form of trafficking and exploitation has been highlighted as a significant threat through Operation Golf, a UK and Romanian Joint Investigation tackling Romanian Organised Crime and Child Trafficking. In this case over 1000 mostly Roma children were trafficked for forced labour and sexual exploitation. The exploitation that took place in the UK was largely street crime and begging. Golf found that 1 child in the UK could earn up to £11 000 in a year. 
A further attraction was that children under the age of 10 years cannot be prosecuted and so very young children represented an opportunity for high profit with low risk of detection or prosecution. 
According to Anti-slavery, the trafficking of Roma nationals for the purposes of criminal exploitation, is still happening on a large scale. Between January 2011 and December 2013, 3 318 Foreign National Children were arrested for theft offences in the UK. 28% came from Romania, next was Poland (10.8%), Slovakia (7.5%), the Czech Republic (6.4%) and Lithuania (6%) (Anti Slavery International, 2014). 

Scale of the Problem of Child Sexual Exploitation 

Official statistics on how many sexually exploited children have been identified by the authorities are not currently available. Although there has been a lot of research into the factors that are associated with child sexual exploitation, very few studies look into the numbers of children who have been exploited. 
Over 2,400 children were victims of sexual exploitation in gangs and groups from August 2010 to October 2011 Over 360 children were trafficked for sexual exploitation last year. 
There have also been increases in police-recorded child sexual offences and indecent image offences across the UK and the National Crime Agency report that online exploitation is now the most common form of child sexual exploitation. 

County Lines - Criminal Exploitation by Organised Crime Groups 

Research relating to criminal exploitation and trafficking of UK born children within the UK is in its infancy but there is a substantial and growing body of knowledge and literature concerning child sexual exploitation (CSE). Forced Criminal Exploitation is currently identified primarily in association with gang-involved children. In these situations children are transported away from home, having their mobile phones taken away, being supplied with drugs to sell and sometimes provided with weapons. Whilst the children are being exploited for these purposes they are often given some kind of payment (Shipton, et al., 2016) or recruited through the use of gifts, money and drugs (Knowlsely Council, 2015). Shipton suggests that many children that go missing following their identification and accommodation is determined by a lack of trust in adults tasked with their safeguarding (Shipton, et al., 2016). 
A growing route by which children are being controlled in the context of gang related drug dealing is the County Lines model. A County Line is ther term used to describe the business model of an individual or, more often, a group that sets up a telephone number outside of their own locality in order to sell drugs at street level. This model enables a group to expand their drug dealing operations by crossing Police Fore boundaries from urban to rural areas, most often in coastal or market towns (National Crime Agency, 2015). 
The telephone number is carefully guarded and kept well away from the locality in which the drugs are sold: The number acts as a “Brand” through which the dealers can communicate with users. The drugs are then delivered through a relay system of runners who deliver drugs and collect cash. The base of operations in a locality generally belongs to a vulnerable person (often adult drug addicts or vulnerable females.The property is usually acquired by force or intimidation (often referred to as “cuckooing”). The gangs typically exploit children to deliver drugs from the urban to county location using intimidation, violence, debt bondage and grooming (National Crime Agency, 2016) 
Exploitation of Children 
Children are recruited by the gangs from within their urban areas and are then used to courier drugs and money to and from the county location. Sometimes they are driven by car but often by train or coach. The county base is usually a cuckooed address and, according to the NCA, children that have been exploited as runners have had to stay for periods of time at the locality base which are often characterised by very poor conditions. 
Male children are most commonly exploited within the running of county lines but the NCA report that almost half of the areas that returned data on county lines reported the use of female children. Violence is a dominant theme in the operations of Drug Gangs that are operating county lines. Much of the violence can occur between gangs or is directed towards users but 70% of force returns indicated that violence is used towards other gang members, usually runners, when they made mistakeds or were accused of stealing. If drugs or profits are lost by a gang member due to being robbed or arrested they are held responsible for the loss and take on that debt leading to a model of debt bondage. 
Recruitment of Children 
The recruitment processes to drugs gangs are unclear (National Crime Agency, 2016) and this may be better understood by examining how children become involved in gangs in general rather than specifically to drugs gangs, especially as organised crime groups tend to recruit urban street gangs or groups or individual street gang members 
Children represent low cost and high value in the context of all types exploitation: children have been used for forced begging because they often earn more money for their exploiters (European Roma Rights Centre and People In Need, 2011; Shipton, et al., 2016) and early, forced marriage of a child in exchange for a dowry is often a precursor to sexual exploitation and domestic servitude. 
A child that is exploited for one form of criminality may only be of value for a limited period of time e.g. they may become too old or too big or more conspicuous. They must then either be utilised in a different way or disposed of. When a child is no longer able to fulfil one role they may become better suited to recruitment or maintaining discipline among other victims or to move into other areas of the criminal enterprise if that fits with the needs of the crime group. Disposal may involve return to the family or community, trading or murder. The disposal method may offer significant insights into the nature of the crime group i.e. their business models, activities, competence and expertise, connections with other crime groups and their interface with the legitimate economy and services. 

Transportability and Ease of Control (Low Inertia) 

The NCA assessment of the exploitation of children within county lines is that children appeal to the exploiters because they are a relatively inexpensive resource and easy to control (National Crime Agency, 2016). It is striking that victims from Vietnam, Central and Eastern Europe are likely to have low levels of education or may have special educational needs; in Vietnam the recruiters who target children online are described as often better educated and more articulate than the children they exploit. 

Visibility and Accessibility 

The low cost and disposability of children means that they are easily replaced and the case studies above indicate that there are ample sources for recruitment: people living in extreme poverty, children from adverse environments and children that are already victims of abuse and exploitation. This raises an uncomfortable question – what is it that the victim does that contributes to their victimisation? It is important to be clear from the outset, that this should not under any circumstances be confused with laying blame with the victim but rather understanding victim behaviour as a part of the dynamics of their abuse and exploitation. 
This means that for some that are trafficked there is a greater degree of agency than others. Some of those that are trafficked and subject to exploitation have made a decision to take a substantial risk for the possibility of improving their prospects or providing for their families. 

Activity: You may do this activity alone or you may wish to do it with colleagues so that you have the opportunity for discussion. Watch this report on "County Lines" from Sky News and make notes in relation to the questions in the box below. Compare your notes with the suggested answers. 

Resource:  Download the NCA Briefing on County Lines Here 


Paco referred to a large number of children and young people that he has recruited in the past. They are a low cost resource for him and the more young "workers" that he has the more business he can turn over. Clearly, Paco also sees the children as quite disposable suggesting that he can "get through them like water". An addtional value is not so much in terms of financial gain - Chris said that the work was dangerous with the constant risk of violence from customers as well as the risk of arrest. By using vulnerable young people in this way, the exploiters protect themselves physically and reduce the likelihood of detection and arrest as they operate their business from their own territory in cities. 
Yes it does. A common association with the term "Trafficking" is the transportation of people accross national boarders but it refers to any movement of a human being for the purposes of forced or compulsory labour, slavery, servitude or exploitation. Therefore even movement within or between towns, if for the purposes of exploitation of some sort, constitutes trafficking with a maximum sentence on indictment of Life Imprisonment. 
The drug dealer, "Paco", describes the children as looking for attention, wanting to be known. He explains that he looks for children from a "broken home", children living in poverty and children lacking male role models in their life. 
As Paco says, the children want to be known and seen with "The Big Guys". The exploiters notice this and invite them to come for a trip to the country. He explains that the children he recruits are "looking for something...want to be a part of something." Chris, who was exploited by a drug gang said that some children and young people become involved in drug gangs simply so that things go more easily for them in the communities from which they come - such an affiliation gives them a certain immunity. 
If the children "mess up" Paco says that they are punished; this may involve him taking their money but includes physical punishment that can include murder. The NCA Briefing identifies "debt bondage " as a further method of control e.g. if a young person is robbed of his drugs or money or in some otherway loses it he is made to work off the debt incurred by the loss. 

A Systemic Perspective on the Exploitation of Children 

In the UK The Modern Slavery Act 2015 has finally offered a statutory response to the trafficking of human beings, slavery, servitude and exploitation of children and adults. It provides a legal process by which we can identify, prevent, investigate and prosecute these dreadful crimes against vulnerable children. However, to do so requires some understanding of the complexities of such cases; the varied forms of exploitation, vulnerabilities, interpersonal dynamics, roles, responsibilities and so on. 
The exploitation of vulnerable children does not happen in a vacuum. A single case of Cexploitation happens in the context of a sophisticated system that is made up of many people with different roles and functions. Protective agencies are also a part of that system. Tackling the trafficking and exploitation of children therefore requires that we understand the nature of the problem from a systemic point of view: actions in any part of that system or network will have an effect throughout the whole of the network. 
Reliance upon traditional methods of investigation and safeguarding of children in the context of any kind of organised exploitation is inadequate to the task. Existing methodologies are reactive; they are dependent upon the identification of or disclosure of abuse, an identifiable victim and perpetrator – the abuse has been detected and investigation and intervention follows an inductive or “top down” process to explain what happened, how it happened and how it will be remedied. 
Exploitation and Trafficking of children, by its nature is covert and its victims are often hidden. Children and young people that have been exploited do not necessarily know they have been, and if they do, may feel embarrassed about their predicament and do not trust law enforcement or social care agencies enough in order to report their situation. Indeed, some children and young people that are victims of exploitation have been arrested numerous times for other offences such as prostitution, public order offences and petty crime and drug offences before their real status has been recognised. 
The level of violent coercion used by those that traffic and exploit children and young people is often under-estimated. Fear of retribution from perpetrators prevents disclosure and often causes victims to deny that they have been trafficked, falsely imprisoned or forced into sex work. The hidden nature of trafficking and sexual exploitation means that victims are kept in isolation and are often trapped by or dependent upon the abusers. Those trafficked from outside the country may be trafficked illegally and find themselves treated as illegal immigrants by police and border agencies before their real situation is realised. Other vulnerabilities, such as physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities, as well as language barriers have in some cases precluded trafficked people seeking help. 
Exploitation is a wide reaching term that is essentially about the varied exploitation of vulnerable children, from and within a variety of contexts. It is a conduit to abuse but one that relies upon the mutual co-operation of those that trade and use children, the utilisation of legal loopholes, the inherent weaknesses and gaps within organisational structures and protocols, the corruption of officials and coercion of the victims. 
As a secret or hidden phenomenon it is surrounded by myths, assumptions and false perceptions. All these elements coalesce to form complex eco-systems in which abuse and exploitation is maintained. Like any ecosystem, exploitation of children is constantly changing, adapting to new pressures and opportunities but at the same time maintaining a coherence: changes in the various elements fit together to meet the needs and goals of the group that is perpetrating the abuse. This therefore has implications for all agencies working to identify, prevent, investigate and prosecute cases of Child Sexual Exploitation. 
Instead of simply focusing upon the victim there needs to be recognition that the victim, their abusers and those agencies that strive to protect children form a larger system. An effective response to trafficking and exploitation therefore cannot be one that “Gives” an intervention to the victim but rather one that promotes movements or perturbations in the entire system, identifies the effects and reveals the next relevant step in the enquiry (Dallos, 1992). What this comes down to is a change in our approach whereby we become more exploratory, looking for connections, themes and dependencies. Gradually, as the reality and extent of the case becomes clear, key members and mechanisms of the network are identified (whether they are perpetrators or victims), relationships and dependencies become understood and motivations and modus operandi emerge. By so doing we can simultaneously protect actual and potential victims, identify, disrupt and remove offenders and improve safeguarding and prosecutorial outcomes and reduce the risk of re-victimisation. 
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