Increasing numbers of children are being sexually or criminally exploited, Barnardo’s has warned.
A survey of the children’s charity’s managers representing 370 services found that almost 60 per cent of Barnardo’s services describes supporting a young person involved in crime in the past year. More than 60 per cent of the total said that in their experience children who were criminally exploited were also the victims of sexual abuse.
Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan, said: “We know that all children in every community are at risk of sexual abuse and exploitation and with new technologies they are vulnerable to being groomed online from their bedrooms.
“The evidence from our services supports growing concerns about a rise in child criminal exploitation, often linked to gangs, drugs, serious violence and sexual abuse.
“We must have a multi-agency approach which recognises the interconnected nature of the threats facing children. Children forced into criminal activity must not be criminalised, but treated as victims and given support which prioritises their safety, recovery and future outcomes,” he added.
Of the 60 per cent who describe supporting a young person involved in crime, three quarters thought the young person had been coerced, controlled or manipulated by others into criminal activity.
Eighty per cent said that technology had played an “important role” in enabling criminal exploitation. More than a third of managers said that in their experience, criminal exploitation was increasing.
Young people are being forced to carry weapons, carry and sell drugs, go missing and are subjected to sexual exploitation and abuse.
Barnardo’s is calling for agencies, such as the police, education, health and social care, to work together on a joint approach that recognises the long-term nature of the abuse, exploitation and trauma these children experience and also that they are often coerced into criminal activity.
Barnardo’s Ambassador and actor Chris Harper who played child abuser Nathan Curtis in Coronation Street said: “Television has an important and powerful part to play in highlighting how children are criminally and sexually exploited.
“More must be done to tackle the threats facing children by online groomers and criminal gangs. Children who have been forced to undertake illegal activity by gangs must not be criminalised. They should be recognised as victims and given support including safety and recovery for their future,” he concluded.