The Shocking Truth Of Wales’ Playground Pushers

Welsh children as young as 12 are dealing drugs and 11-year-olds are being arrested for possession, police figures reveal. The number of playground pushers and users has risen significantly in many parts of the country with at least 288 youngsters aged 16 and under arrested for drug offences between 2003 and 2006.

For most, childhood is a time of innocence. But these statistics unveil a grim snapshot of growing up in Wales today, with some kids recruited as drug runners to target vulnerable playmates. Experts fear the problem is worsened by children believing cannabis is ‘harmless’ following its declassification.

The shocking figures reveal:

  • The youngest child drug dealer was a 12-year-old from Dyfed-Powys, who was arrested for selling cannabis;
  • 11-year-olds in Dyfed-Powys and Gwent were caught with cannabis;
  • A 13-year-old from Dyfed-Powys and 14-year-old from Gwent were arrested for possession of ecstasy pills;
  • A 16-year-old was arrested for trafficking the highly addictive Class A drug cocaine;
  • And across Wales, at least six kids aged 16 and under were apprehended with and five were arrested for supplying heroin.

Reacting to the police stats – released to Wales on Sunday under the Freedom of Information Act, Acting Children’s Commissioner for Wales Maria Battle said: “It’s so sad and shocking that children as young as this are being targeted to buy and sell drugs. It is important there are services on the ground in the community working to prevent drug use and support young people which are accessible, properly resourced and effective.”

A spokesman for national drugs charity Drugscope added: “Many dealers have found themselves a willing and able young workforce. To a large extent these kids will be gofers and runners. It will be difficult for the police to do anything about it.”

A King’s College University study for the Joseph Roundtree Foundation found child suppliers earned between £450 to £4,000 a week. The report comes amid increasing concern over drug use among young people after the Government downgraded the law on cannabis three years ago. Ministers have been blamed for sending confusing and mixed messages to youngsters on drug abuse by reclassifying cannabis from class B to class C.

This means that anyone caught in possession of the drug is only given a caution or informal warning, with the culprit involved receiving no police record.

Mike Denman, strategic planning officer for leading Welsh drugs charity CAIS, said: “Where the police figures say that very young people are dealing drugs, it may be the case that young people are buying drugs on behalf of others then selling it on. They collect the money and distribute the drugs. Some drug dealers actually target young people to supply on their behalf. It’s a major concern.”

The declassification of cannabis is also an important issue, he said. “We’re not shocked by this. Cannabis has been developed to be much, much stronger than it was and it’s causing more problems. It’s seen by young people as a milder, more harmless drug but that’s not the case.

“I think that’s a major problem which has arisen from the government’s decision to reclassify cannabis. Cannabis works with the body to induce psychosis. We’ve seen a dramatic increase in that type of ailment, not only in adults but all ages. In a developing body, the effect is more likely to be greater.”

Mr Denman said the solution lies in education. “We need to look at the reasons behind why young people experiment with drugs like cannabis – why are they doing this? We are very concerned that early provision is not being addressed,” he said.

“We need desperately to improve how information is given to youngsters. There is not enough information being given to young people. We need more ongoing support by people who are not healthcare professionals. Drug education could involve older pupils giving support to younger pupils in schools.”

As part of its drugs education policy, the Welsh Assembly Government contributes funding to the All Wales Schools Programme, which is operated by the four police forces in Wales. The partnership operates in 97 per cent of primary and secondary schools in Wales.

An Assembly spokesman said: “It is important that children and young people are educated about the dangers of drug misuse through school and also in the wider community. As part of the physical aspect of Personal Social Education pupils learn how to keep themselves safe and understand the dangers of tobacco, alcohol, solvents and other legal and illegal drugs.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “We are working across government to ensure that a comprehensive range of support is available for all young people. Some groups of young people are more at risk of developing drug problems. These include young offenders, children of drug-misusing parents, truants and excludees.

“Systems are in place in youth offending teams to identify and assess young offenders using drugs and offer appropriate support. This response covers all offences including the use and supply of drugs by 10 to 17 year-olds.”