Thousands of children are being trafficked to supply drugs by ‘county lines’ gangs into rural parts of the UK, according to a new report by the National Crime Agency (NCA).

The report, ‘County Lines Violence, Exploitation & Drug Supply 2017’, examines the latest national trends in 'county lines': the term used to refer to the supply of drugs from urban hubs to county towns, usually associated with urban street gangs.

It finds that 65% of police forces in the UK reported county lines activity linked to exploitation of children, with 42% of forces specifically reporting children ‘running’ (moving drugs/money) on behalf of drug lines. The majority of children exploited in this way were between 15 and 17 years old. The youngest child reported was aged 12.

The report also highlights that missing children are among those commonly exploited by these gangs. However, it notes that the full picture of how missing children are exploited in this way is an 'intelligence gap' amongst police forces. In ECPAT UK’s 2016 ‘Heading back to harm’ report, we also found that there is a knowledge gap amongst local authorities around this issue.

The report also found that the lack of a consistent, proactive system in police forces for identifying vulnerable children entering a region is preventing proper safeguarding procedures from being implemented.

Bharti Patel, CEO of ECPAT UK, said “These findings are shocking and should be a cause of great concern for all of us working to protect children from such heinous crimes.  There is an urgent need for effective cross-county collaboration between the police and local authorities to build intelligence about how and why children are recruited and forced into criminal activities. Early identification is vital to safeguarding vulnerable children and tackling this type of exploitation.”

ENDS

Press contacts

Bharti Patel, CEO, ECPAT UK: 020 7607 2136, [email protected]

Catherine Baker, Policy & Campaigns Officer, ECPAT UK: 020 7607 2136, [email protected]