New report warns children as young as seven recruited by county lines drug gangs

County lines drug gangs are recruiting children aged under 10, a charity has suggested.

The Children’s Society made the claim after carrying out research which suggested younger children than previously thought were being drawn into gangs.

In one instance, a child as young as seven was said to have become embroiled in such an operation, research suggested.

In a report published on Friday, 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.

While a member of police staff told researchers how they came across an eight-year-old who they suspected had been targeted.

Research found children most likely to be targeted were aged between 14 and 17, the charity said.

Nick Roseveare (pictured), the charity’s chief executive, said “cowardly criminals” were “stooping to new lows in grooming young people to do their dirty work and in casting their net wider to reel in younger children”.

The charity is calling for early intervention to protect children, and for youngsters to be seen as victims rather than criminals.

The research was carried out anonymously, gathering mainly anecdotal evidence, the charity said.

“The majority of the respondents said that they were not aware of any children under the age of 10 being identified as victims of criminal child exploitation (CCE), though five individuals from different police force areas reported that they were aware of victims under the age of 10,” the report said.

“Half of the local authority areas that we talked with reported that they did not currently have any known victims under the age of 11 or 12-years-old.

“Two local areas were aware of/believed that there were victims under the age of 10 at risk of or being exploited in the area.

“One local authority reported that they were working with a victim as young as seven.

“There is lack of recognition of the issue affecting younger children, and so the opportunity to identify and offer help earlier to children under the age of 10 is being missed.”

In January, the National Crime Agency (NCA) warned that criminal gangs were exploiting thousands of children as young as 11 to run the lucrative drug networks, raking in hundreds of millions of pounds a year.

Responding to the report, Nikki Holland, who leads on county lines for the NCA, said: “County Lines drug dealing relies heavily on the exploitation of children and other vulnerable people, with girls and boys being exposed to physical, mental and sexual abuse.

“While young people in their middle to late teens make up the majority of those involved in county lines, children of all ages are targeted and used by the criminals behind drug dealing operations.”

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