Inner city children being forced to sell drugs in the countryside has fueled a tripling in the number of modern slavery victims in Britain, the National Crime Agency has said.
According to koodakpress، For the first time UK nationals have made up the majority of the cases reported to the scheme set up to identify children and adults who are at the mercy of slave drivers and traffickers.
This was partly down to fears of children being exploited in a drug distribution model known as “county lines”, where city gangs branch out into county or coastal towns to sell heroin and crack cocaine.
In 2017 there were 5,145 potential victims referred, up 35 per cent from 2016 and the number has almost tripled since 2013, when there were 1,745 cases.
Whilst the highest number of cases related to the exploitation of labour, there were also hundreds of reports of sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and even three cases of organ harvesting.
Of the 116 nationalities reported to have fallen victim, the largest group was UK citizens, with 819 flagged to the National Referral Mechanism, more than double the 326 referred in 2016.
NCA director Will Kerr said: “It is our assessment that the increase we are seeing here is driven by an increased awareness and greater reporting of modern slavery and that is to be welcomed.
“However, it also adds further evidence to our view that the figures almost certainly represent an underestimate of the true scale of slavery and trafficking in the UK.”
He warned authorities are dealing with an “evolving threat” as criminals go into “online spaces” to enable their offending.
Mr Kerr said: “We are also seeing increasing crossovers between slavery and organised immigration crime outside of the UK.
“Often the same criminal networks are involved in transportation, and migrants themselves are vulnerable to labour and sexual exploitation during their journeys and after.
“Particularly concerning to us is the rise in young people being exploited for sexual purposes or drug trafficking.”
The number of gangs using “county lines” drugs distribution has risen amid increasing turf wars and a crackdown by inner city police, who can identify gang members.
Children and vulnerable people are deployed as couriers to move drugs and cash between the new market and their urban hub.
The NRM is a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, but not all individuals who are referred are ultimately assessed to be modern slavery victims.
A separate report published on Monday reveals the number of modern slavery operations being carried out by police at any one time has tripled, from 188 in December 2015 to 568 last month.
Devon and Cornwall Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer, the national policing lead for modern slavery, said: “It means police are identifying more victims of modern slavery than ever before, ensuring they get the support they need and exploitation is stopped.”
On where modern slavery sits among policing priorities, Mr Sawyer said: “Stealing years from someone’s life, abusing them to believing they are subhuman, denying them employment opportunities, not enabling them to have healthcare, demeaning and destroying their education … it’s pretty high for me.”