Child criminal exploitation (CCE) occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, control, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18. The victim may have been criminally exploited even if the activity appears consensual. CCE does not always involve physical contact, it can also occur through the use of technology. (Home Office, 2018).
CCE is a broad term and can include forcing children into criminal activities such as the sale and distribution of drugs (county lines), working in cannabis farms, or committing theft.
Criminal exploitation of children is most often seen within County Lines.
County lines is the police term for urban gangs supplying drugs to suburban areas and market and coastal towns using dedicated mobile phone lines or ‘deal lines’. It involves CCE as gangs use children and vulnerable people to move drugs and money. Gangs establish a base in the market location, typically by taking over the homes of local vulnerable adults by force or coercion in a practice referred to as ‘cuckooing’.
County lines is a major, cross cutting issue involving drugs, violence, gangs, safeguarding, criminal and sexual exploitation, modern slavery, and missing persons; and the response to tackle it involves the police, the National Crime Agency, a wide range of government departments, local government agencies and voluntary and community sector organisations.
County lines activity and the associated violence, drug dealing and exploitation has a devastating impact on young people, vulnerable adults and local communities.
How does it affect children and young people?
Like other forms of abuse and exploitation, child criminal exploitation:
• Can affect any child or young person (male or female) under the age of 18
• Can still be exploitation even if the activity appears consensual
• Can involve force and/or enticement-based methods of compliance and is often accompanied by violence or threats of violence
• Can be perpetrated by individuals or groups, males or females, and young people or adults; and
• Is typified by some form of power imbalance in favour of those perpetrating the exploitation. Whilst age may be the most obvious, this power imbalance can also be due to a range of other factors including gender, cognitive ability, physical strength, status and access to economic or other resources.
Know the signs