|Data show that 1,173 children in the UK were enslaved by drug dealers in 2019. Photograph: Katarzyna Bialasiewicz/Getty Images/iStockphoto via theGuardian|
More than 1,100 children have been trafficked into the UK’s drug trade, new Home Office figures reveal.
The data obtained by the drug reform charity Transform shows that 1,173 children were enslaved by drug dealers in 2019.
Figures from January to December 2019 show that the majority of the 1,853 people estimated by the Home Office to have been trafficked into the illicit drugs business were children.
Transform obtained the Home Office statistics through a freedom of information request and released them on Thursday to mark the UN’s World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.
The charity said the number of children trafficked into drug dealing in Britain had dramatically increased from 2018 and was an increasing problem. It blamed the rise on the growing national focus on “county lines” drug operations across the UK.
In 2018 the Home Office figures recorded 721 people as victims of trafficking into the “county lines” trade. Last year that figure rose to 1,139, including 1,001 children.
The data came from the Serious and Organised Crime Group (SOCG) unit of the Home Office. Their figures also show a rise in children or minors being forced to illegally work in cannabis cultivation from 146 in 2018 to 156 last year.
Harvey Slade, a research and policy officer at Transform Drug Policy Foundation, said: “The illegal drug trade provides an unparalleled source of revenue for organised crime groups.
“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. These new statistics show that organised crime groups are exploiting young and vulnerable people to avoid detection by law enforcement, and maximise profits.”
Slade 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,” he said.
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.
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