Home Office figures have revealed that more than 1,000 children have been trafficked into the UK’s illegal drug trade.
A recent article in The Guardian reported that data obtained by the drug policy reform charity, Transform, shows 1,173 children were enslaved by drug dealers in 2019.
Of the more than 2,000 people said to have been trafficked into the illegal drugs business from January to December ’19, most are said to have been children and the number being trafficked had dramatically increased since the previous year.
The charity blamed the rise in the growing ‘county lines’ trade operating across the UK, which sees drugs transported from one area to another, across police and local authority boundaries, usually by children.
Vulnerable people and children are coerced into trafficking by drug gangs, and are made to transport, store and sell drugs in small county towns, for the benefit of larger organised crime gangs.
The news comes as the National Youth Agency recently reported a rise in the number of young girls being drawn into drug selling, as part of a ‘lock down recruitment drive’ and Merseyside Police revealed a worrying trend for dressing young drug mules as food delivery drivers in a bid to sidestep lockdown restrictions.
Data from the Home Office also revealed a rise in children or minors being forced to illegally work in cannabis cultivation from 14 in 2018 to 159 in 2019.
A spokesperson for Transform said, ‘the illegal drug trade provides an unparalleled source of revenue for organised crime groups.
‘These new statistics show that organised crime groups are exploiting young and vulnerable people to avoid detection by law enforcement and maximise profits.
‘The current approach is to send police in to make arrests and seize the drugs, but we know, after 50 years of trying, that this doesn’t work.’
Transform said the increasing number of people, especially children, being trafficked as “drug slaves” in Britain underlined the need for an alternative approach to drug prohibition.
‘In order to combat this horrific level of exploitation, we need to take back control and legally regulate the drug market. We need to respond to this issue as we do with legal supply chains: by providing reporting and monitoring procedures, and by keeping vulnerable children out of the trade.’
Transform has argued that the “war on drugs” that has been waged for more than half a century has been counterproductive and has only enriched organised crime across the world.