Child criminal exploitation

What is child criminal exploitation?

Child criminal exploitation often occurs without the victim being aware that they are being exploited and involves young people being encouraged, cajoled or threatened to carry out crime for the benefit of others. In return they are offered friendship or peer acceptance, but also cigarettes, drugs (especially cannabis), alcohol or even food and accommodation.

Children as young as 10 or 11 are being groomed to enter gangs and commit crime on behalf of older criminals. These young people are being exploited by being persuaded or lured into carrying out illegal activities, and often with the promise of something they desire as a reward, they become incredibly vulnerable.

What is 'county lines'?

County lines is a term used to describe gangs, groups or drug networks that supply drugs from urban to suburban areas across the country, including market and coastal towns, using dedicated mobile phone lines or ‘deal lines’. They exploit children and vulnerable adults to move the drugs and money to and from the urban area, and to store the drugs in local markets. They will often use intimidation, violence and weapons, including knives, corrosives and firearms.

County lines is a major, cross-cutting issue involving drugs, violence, gangs, safeguarding, criminal and sexual exploitation, modern slavery, and missing persons and the response to tackle it involves the police, the National Crime Agency, a wide range of Government departments, local government agencies and voluntary and community sector organisations. County lines activity and the associated violence, drug dealing and exploitation has a devastating impact on young people, vulnerable adults and local communities.

If you're worried about a child or young person

Please refer them to the Children’s MASH (Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub) using the Children’s Portal.

You can call 020 8379 5555, Monday to Thursday from 9am to 5pm, Friday 9am to 4:45pm. Out of office hours on 020 8379 1000 (select option 2 and you will be transferred to an advisor). You can also email

In an emergency, call 999.