The Children’s Society as part of the National CSAE Prevention Programme for England and Wales, in partnership with Victim Support and the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) have published a guide to share knowledge on County Lines and to offer suggestions for how to support the children involved.
County Lines is the term used to describe the internal trafficking of children for exploitation. Children trafficked in this way are used by gangs to commit crime on their behalf and as a result are often dealt with by the criminal justice system rather than being recognised as victims and safeguarded. Child criminal exploitation (CCE) often exposes victims to injuries, trauma, sexual violence, debt bondage and danger. The Knowsley Safeguarding Children’s Board acknowledges in their definition of CCE that it often occurs without the child’s immediate recognition, with the child believing that they are in control of the situation.
The guide refers to the definition of human trafficking in the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and highlights the following points:
- A person commits an offence if the person arranges or facilitates the travel of another person (‘V’) with a view to V being exploited.
- It is irrelevant whether V consents to the travel (whether V is an adult or a child).
- A person may in particular arrange or facilitate V’s travel by recruiting V, transporting or transferring V, harbouring or receiving V, or transferring or exchanging control over V.
- A person arranges or facilitates V’s travel with a view to V being exploited if — the person intends to exploit V (in any part of the world) during or after the travel, or the person knows or ought to know that another person is likely to exploit V (in any part of the world) during or after the travel.
- ‘Travel’ means arriving in, or entering any country, departing from any country, or travelling within any country.
The arranging or facilitating of the travel of children (and vulnerable adults) for the purpose of them selling drugs, firearms or sex on their behalf is exploitation and can fall under the Modern Slavery Act’s definitions of exploitation
Once a victim of CCE is identified the following steps should be taken:
- A report should be made to the police
- The child should be referred to children’s social care
- A referral should be made to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM)
- A strategy meeting should be convened
The guide gives examples of how gangs threaten or coerce children into committing offences, gives examples of indicators that a child is being exploited and examples of the types of vulnerabilities that may increase a child’s risk of become a victim. It then goes on to explain some of the barriers which prevent victims engaging with professional networks, for example, not identifying as victims.
A directory which suggests ways language can be used to underline the fact that the victims of CCE are victims rather than suspect is included along with lists of relevant services and resources.
The clear acknowledgement by the agencies who have published this guide that the children affected by County Lines should be treated as victims not suspects is welcomed. The duties of lawyers representing these children differ from those of other professionals – see the YJLC guide for further details.