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Defining child criminal exploitation

Children being exploited need to be better identified and supported. A statutory definition of Child Criminal Exploitation would send a strong message that children who are forced to commit crimes, are victims rather than criminals. 

Number of pages:

5 pages

Date published:

Why do we need a statutory definition of CCE?

Child criminal exploitation (CCE) takes a variety of forms but ultimately it is the grooming and exploitation of children into criminal activity. Across each form that CCE takes, the current reality is that children who are coerced into criminal activity are often treated as criminals by statutory agencies rather than as victims of exploitation.

This is in part because safeguarding partners have different understandings of what constitutes criminal exploitation. Recently, CCE has become strongly associated with one specific model known as ‘county lines’, but it can also include children being forced to work in cannabis factories, being coerced into moving drugs (often forced to insert drugs in their vagina or anus in a practice known as ‘plugging’) or money across the country, forced to commit financial fraud, forced to shoplift or pickpocket.

A statutory definition of CCE would send out a strong message that children who are forced to commit crime are victims rather than criminals. It would:

  • Enable a shared understanding and a better multi-agency response to this form of exploitation
  • Lead to professionals spotting the signs of this exploitation earlier on in the grooming cycle
  • Make sure children are safeguarded and supported earlier 
  • Create greater focus on disrupting the activity of those who groom children for child criminal exploitation.

CCE case study

young man with Vans backpacking walking down middle of road head down hand on back of head

What it means for children

This is an extract from a Serious Case Review of a child who was criminally exploited:

The child lived in Nottingham. He was regularly excluded from school and would often run away from home.

In January 2018 his mother said she was threatened by an ‘older youth’ who claimed her son had money for them. The incident was reported to Nottinghamshire Police but the Police have no record of this.

That same month, this child was arrested by Police in possession of an air gun, knife and cannabis. He later informed the Youth Offending Team (YOT) that an older boy had given him these.

YOT worked with him on a programme designed to highlight dangers of carrying weapons. The incident was reported to the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) but no further action was taken because of YOT involvement.

CCE story

The child moved to Waltham Forest in April 2018. In October 2018, he was arrested again in Bournemouth in a ‘cuckoo’ flat. There was significant evidence of drug use and sales being made in the flat. He was found to be in personal possession of 39 wraps of crack cocaine. He was arrested for possession of Class A with intent to supply.

This was a pivotal moment in providing support to the child. For the first time, the authorities in Waltham Forest had been presented with completely unequivocal evidence that he was being criminally exploited. Three weeks after the incident involving this child, another child was also found at the same address in Bournemouth.

After being found in Bournemouth, the child from Nottingham had multiple safeguarding agencies involved in his life, but unfortunately he was later murdered in January 2019.

Need for amendment

The case study above clearly demonstrates that the child was let down by multiple agencies. They didn’t unanimously confirm until very late into the cycle of exploitation that the child was being criminally exploited. This is owing to a potential lack of understanding by all statutory agencies of what child criminal exploitation is and how vulnerabilities manifest in children. This is unfortunately a reoccurring pattern we see across the country.

A statutory definition of CCE would be the start of improving the child protection and criminal justice response to this form of exploitation. Both the National Referral Mechanism and children’s social care assessments have recently introduced child criminal exploitation as categories of exploitation in their own right. It is now high time this is reflected in legislation to ensure there is universal understanding and support available for this form of exploitation across the country.

We are calling for an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to make this happen. 

Amendment to the Modern Slavery Act 2015:

Child Criminal Exploitation:

Another person or persons manipulate, deceive, coerce, or control the person to undertake activity which constitutes a criminal offence where the person is under the age of 18