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DAD.info | Fatherhood | Being Dad | County lines: what is it and how can you protect your child?

County lines: what is it and how can you protect your child?

Maya Griffiths

Maya Griffiths

Teenager wearing hoody representing child vulnerable to county lines

You may have heard the term ‘county lines’- it describes criminal activity involving the exploitation of children. Sadly many thousands of young people become embroiled in county lines every year. Here’s a guide to what you need to know and how to protect your child:

What is county lines?

County lines is the exploitation of children for the purpose of storing drugs and money. Gangs also use young people to move drugs and money around the country. Children are forced, coerced or persuaded to take part in this criminal activity, which is illegal and considered child abuse.

County lines gangs groom young people and involve them in a sophisticated organised criminal network. By using children the leaders of gangs are distanced from activity ‘on the ground’. The young people are also carrying out the criminal activities with the most risk.

Phone lines are used to contact the young people to organise the transport of drugs. This might be to another county. This type of activity is sometimes referred to by young people as ‘going cunch’, ‘running a line’, ‘going OT’ or ‘going country’.

The risks to children

Children can incur serious harm from being involved in county lines. Not only are they drawn into a criminal lifestyle, they are often burdened with ‘debts’ by the gang leaders and made to pay them off by working.

County lines is often associated with violent crime- particularly involving knives and guns. Rival gangs may attack each other, and the culture of referring to seeking help as ‘snitching’ means that many crims go unreported.

Young people may also be forced into sexual activity, either to work off a ‘debt’ or via grooming. Children involved in county lines may also be forced to use their bodies to transport drugs as a ‘mule’. This can be life threatening.

How do children get involved in county lines?

Gangs typically identify vulnerable young people to target for involvement in their activities. The gang may pretend to the child that they can fulfil what the child is missing- friendship or a feeling of belonging, for example. After initial contact, young people can be lured in via the lifestyle appearing glamorous on social media, and the feeling that joining a gang means they have people to protect them.

Children can be targeted and ‘recruited’ at schools, colleges, or via friends or relatives. Once a part of the gang, children may feel they are betraying their fellow gang members by leaving or ‘snitching’.

Children aged between 6 and 18 are known to have been targeted, with most victims being aged between 15-16.

Awareness is key

Parents being aware of how children can become exploited is key in prevention. Children who are socially isolated, struggle to attend school, or have a learning disability cab be more at risk, but any child can be targeted.

It is estimated that up to 46,000 children are currently being exploited by county lines gangs in the UK, and the problem is country-wide. Some schools are teaching children to be aware of these gangs in PSHE lessons, so it’s possible that your child may have heard of them. If not, you can have a conversation with your child, in an age-appropriate way.

If you know of a child who may be involved in county lines, or you suspect they are, contact the police on 101, or 999 in an emergency.

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