UK coronavirus lockdown raises fears of rise in child drug mules

by Amber Milne | @hiyaimamber | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 1 April 2020 17:05 GMT

A member of the West Midlands Police cannabis team inspects cannabis plants at a factory in Birmingham, central England, January 25, 2012. REUTERS/Darren Staples

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Charities are bracing for a surge in domestic violence under lockdown, which makes young people vulnerable to trafficking

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By Amber Milne

LONDON, April 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - With Britain in coronavirus lockdown, more children risk being trapped in violent homes - a key factor that sucks young people into drug trafficking, crime experts said on Wednesday.

Children who experience domestic abuse can become violent themselves, feel isolated, seek substitute relationships with gangs and engage in risky behaviour, found a review by the victims' commissioner, a statutory role created in 2010.

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"The coronavirus pandemic could lead to a substantial rise in the number of children and young people who experience domestic abuse," commissioner Vera Baird, who promotes the interests of victims and witnesses, said in a statement.

"The domestic abuse they are experiencing today could act as one of the factors influencing their experience of offending behaviour such as serious youth violence and criminal exploitation in the future."

Britain has about 30,000 confirmed coronavirus, or COVID-19, cases and charities have said they are bracing for a surge in domestic abuse after the public were told to stay at home on March 23.

Modern slavery has risen in Britain as criminal gangs use thousands of children to carry drugs from cities to rural areas, with many trapped in the trade by threats of kidnap, violence and rape, government data shows.

The commissioner's review said that a quarter of children who were seen as having socially unacceptable behaviour had identified concerns about domestic abuse of a parent or carer.

"Children who are exposed to domestic abuse are not casual bystanders and the evidence suggests impacts will be huge and far reaching," said Baird, whose statutory role of independent commissioner was created in 2010.

"Practitioners who support children out of gang related activity tell us the children and young people they work with commonly come from backgrounds of domestic abuse."

Britain's anti-slavery commissioner Sara Thorton welcomed the findings, calling for more early intervention to protect young people from exploitation by criminal gangs.

Laura Duran, policy officer at the anti-child trafficking charity ECPAT UK told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that many young victims her charity worked with were vulnerable because of a history of abuse at home.

"In the current context of school closures amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we're extremely concerned about reports of children facing increased domestic abuse ... and the risks of exploitation many may therefore face," she said.

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(Reporting by Amber Milne, additional reporting by Kieran Guilbert; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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