Posted: 18 October 2019

7 facts you need to know about child exploitation

Today is Anti Slavery Day, a chance to raise awareness of modern slavery and human trafficking.

Our report, Counting Lives, explores what is meant by exploitation, what are the methods, and how local and national responses can be made more effective. 

Here is a list of key findings, facts and mythbusters about 'county lines' and child criminal exploitation that have come from the report:

Facts and mythbusters about child criminal exploitation

1. It isn’t all about drugs

Criminal exploitation of children can take many forms. It is often talked about in the news in terms of ‘county lines’ - being coerced into moving and selling drugs across the country. However, it also includes being forced to shoplift or pickpocket, work in cannabis factories, or threaten other young people.

2. Online music videos are hunting grounds for exploiters

Children can be targeted for exploitation face-to-face or online through social media and other platforms. Criminal groups will use popular culture such as online music videos to contact and groom young people.

3. All children are at risk, no matter their background

Any child can be at risk of exploitation, no matter their family network, socio-economic background or neighbourhood. However, certain vulnerabilities can place children at greater risk. These include growing up in poverty, having learning difficulties, being excluded from school or being a looked after child.

4. Drugs aren't only a problem in big cities

Practitioners and police report increasing awareness of young people being exploited through 'county lines' - the distribution of drugs around the country using phone 'lines'. There are thousands of drug trafficking routes to all areas of the country.  

5. Children as young as seven are being exploited 

There is evidence that children as young as seven are being targeted for exploitation. Although older adolescents are more likely to be recorded, many younger children are not recognised and therefore the opportunity to protect them is missed.  

6. Signs of exploitation are not obvious 

There are many signposts to suggest a child is being exploited. One indicator could be if the young person is going missing from home or care. Children in care go missing more frequently than other children and are more likely to be found outside of the boundaries of their home local authority.  

7. Exploited children are not treated equally 

Gender, age, ethnicity and background can all affect the way professionals respond to children who have been or are at risk of being criminally exploited. Some may be recognised as victims while others are not. There needs to be a national strategy to responding to children who are victims of exploitation.


Counting Lives shows that, although childhood should be full of optimism and hope, criminals are taking advantage of young people and dragging them into a world of fear and violence. Society is then treating these exploited children like criminals, which has a devastating effect on their well-being and life chances.

The criminal exploitation of young people has to end. Being manipulated is not a crime. We need a national strategy to respond to child exploitation and we need to raise awareness of grooming among young people, professionals and the community.

Watch our video showing how children are exploited:

By Practitioner

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