Children as young as 12 have been reported to be doing drug runs in London. Targeting the most vulnerable young people in society – usually looked-after children or those already known to social services – organised crime gangs are using grooming tactics to coerce, manipulate and force young children into criminality to pay off unwanted debts.

Through my ongoing research with Youth Offending Teams, who work with young people in trouble with the law, I’ve found that young people are initially given cannabis, alcohol and cigarettes as a reward for helping with gangs’ dirty work. This can encourage addiction and once addicted, gang members tally up the cost of the drugs, allowing young people to quickly accumulate large debts. Vulnerable young people are becoming trapped in a situation where committing crime is one of very few ways that they can pay off their debt to the gang.

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Thumbnail: Flickr CC Nacho