21 March 2024

Review finds thousands of children at risk of Child Criminal Exploitation

A review about Child Criminal Exploitation published today (21 March 2024), commissioned by the charity Action for Children and chaired by Professor Alexis Jay CBE, has found that tens of thousands of children in the UK are at risk of being groomed and coerced into crime by organised gangs.

Child Criminal Exploitation is a complex type of child abuse where a young person is manipulated or pressured to take part in criminal activity, though there is currently no agreed legal definition.

The findings reveal that the same techniques adopted by gangs to sexually abuse young people were being used to draw children into crime, including befriending, rewarding, and targeting children who live in poverty, have mental problems, are from ethnic minority backgrounds, or who lack social confidence. In the Review, over 130,000 parents said their child has experienced three or more signs of criminal exploitation in the last 12 months, and there was evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic and rising rates of school absences and exclusions have exacerbated the problem.

Calling for new legislation to introduce an offence of Child Criminal Exploitation, Professor Jay said that a lack of a UK-wide strategy for tackling Child Criminal Exploitation is resulting in serious and preventable harm being caused to children and young people. The Review heard that the current system fails to bring exploiters to justice and that children are often treated as criminals rather than victims, or don’t recognise that they are being exploited.

To help address these concerns, the Review makes a series of recommendations including a statutory definition of Child Criminal Exploitation within UK law, new powers for the police and criminal justice system to identify and sanction exploiters, a UK wide strategy for preventing criminal exploitation of children from central government, and increased funding for early intervention services.

70 organisations and individuals, including Children’s Commissioners from all four nations, contributed to the Review, along with young people and families with lived experience.

Read the news release

Read the report