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Legal Measures and Protections Against Child Criminal Exploitation

In 2023, it was reported that a record number of young people in the UK were ‘at risk of exploitation’. The worrying figures in the report show that over 5 million children between the ages of 11 and 17 in England and Wales were considered at risk. The rise is presumed down to the cost of living crisis and parents being unable to take time off work, or afford clubs or go on outings. As such, children are spending more time alone unsupervised.

Child criminal exploitation is a harrowing reality that threatens the safety and well-being of vulnerable children across the United Kingdom. Though robust legal measures and protections do exist to safeguard these young individuals from falling victim to exploitation and abuse, many people slip under the radar. In this article, we explore the legal framework aimed at combatting child criminal exploitation.

Defining Child Criminal Exploitation

Child criminal exploitation ensnares vulnerable children into various forms of illicit activities for the benefit of others. It encompasses a range of exploitative behaviours. These include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Forced labour
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Drug trafficking
  • Involvement in criminal gangs and violence.

These children, often from disadvantaged backgrounds or facing social challenges, are coerced, manipulated or deceived into committing criminal acts. This leaves them at significant risk of physical, emotional and psychological harm.

The impact of child criminal exploitation robs children of their innocence, their sense of security and their rightful opportunities for growth and development. It also has lasting effects and perpetuates cycles of violence, poverty and marginalisation. It traps these young individuals in a vicious cycle that is hard to escape from.

Legal measures are essential to hold perpetrators accountable but also to safeguard the rights and well-being of these vulnerable children. Without a robust legal framework to fall back on, these children remain at the mercy of exploitation networks.

protection against child criminal exploitation

Legislation and Regulations

In the United Kingdom, robust legislation and regulations have been established to combat child criminal exploitation. These provide a framework for safeguarding vulnerable children. 

Key among these is the Modern Slavery Act 2015. This addresses various forms of exploitation, including child trafficking, forced labour and domestic servitude. This legislation defines these offences and imposes significant penalties on perpetrators. It also introduces measures to support victims.

There is also a bill in Parliament called the Child Criminal Exploitation Bill, which is undergoing its second reading. This bill aims to amend the Modern Slavery Act 2015 in light of emerging trends in child criminal exploitation. 

Other relevant laws and regulations complement these key pieces of legislation, including provisions within the Children Act 1989 and the Children and Social Work Act 2017. These laws emphasise the importance of the welfare and protection of children and provide a comprehensive legal framework that focuses on prevention, intervention and support measures.

Reporting and Whistleblower Protection

Reporting suspected cases of child criminal exploitation is crucial in safeguarding vulnerable children and holding perpetrators accountable. In the UK, there are legal provisions in place to facilitate the reporting of such cases. One primary avenue for reporting is through local authorities, such as social services or law enforcement agencies, where individuals can alert authorities to suspected instances of child exploitation.

The Children Act 1989 and subsequent amendments outline the duties of local authorities to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need. This includes those at risk of exploitation. These provisions give authorities the power to investigate reports of suspected exploitation and take appropriate action to protect the child involved.

There are also protections in place for whistleblowers who come forward with information regarding child criminal exploitation. The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA) provides legal safeguards for those who disclose information about wrongdoing in the workplace, including instances of child exploitation. Under PIDA, whistleblowers are protected from victimisation or dismissal from work for making a protected disclosure. This is provided certain conditions are met, such as the disclosure being made in good faith and in the public interest.

Organisations and agencies involved in child protection often have their own internal whistleblowing policies and procedures. These encourage and support individuals who wish to report concerns. The policies typically outline the steps for making a disclosure, ensure confidentiality where possible and offer reassurance to whistleblowers regarding protection from retaliation.

Child Protection Orders

Child Protection Orders (CPOs) are a critical legal tool to safeguard children at risk of exploitation. These orders are designed to provide immediate protection to children who are deemed to be at significant risk of harm. This includes those vulnerable to exploitation.

CPOs are typically issued by the courts and can impose a range of restrictions and requirements. These restrictions may include prohibiting contact with the child, restricting the individual’s movements or activities, or requiring them to participate in specific programmes or interventions aimed at addressing their behaviour.

There are different types of CPOs. These are:

  • Emergency Protection Orders (EPOs): This offers children short-term immediate protection. The child is removed from their caregivers and the local authority assumes parental responsibility. EPOs last 8 days but can be extended to 15.
  • Supervision Order: A local authority can place a child under 17 under a supervision order through Section 31 of the Children Act 1989. This lasts up to one year but could be extended to 3 years. Children aren’t removed from their homes and the LA doesn’t have parental responsibility.
  • Care Order: A care order is not based on the consent and cooperation of parents (unlike a supervision order). Children are in the care of the local authority while a care order is in force. The children may be placed with relatives, in a children’s home or with foster parents.

Essentially, CPOs empower authorities to take swift and decisive action to protect children at risk, providing a legal framework for intervention when there are concerns about exploitation. This proactive approach is essential in ensuring the safety and well-being of vulnerable children and preventing further harm from occurring.

protecting children from exploitation

Sentencing and Prosecution

Sentencing and prosecution mechanisms hold perpetrators accountable for their actions but also deter future instances of exploitation and ensure justice for victims.

When individuals are found guilty of involvement in child criminal exploitation, they face significant legal consequences commensurate with the severity of their offences. Sentencing guidelines consider various factors, including the nature and extent of the exploitation, the age and vulnerability of the victim, and the offender’s level of culpability. Perpetrators can receive custodial sentences, fines, community orders or other appropriate penalties.

There is a wide range of legislation that comes into play with child criminal exploitation and depends on the specifics involved. Perpetrators may be charged with any of the following offences:

  • Drugs: Individuals may be charged under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 or even the Customs and Excise Act 1979, if there was any importation or exportation of drugs.
  • Offensive weapons: County lines and child criminal exploitation often involve the use of weapons. This means perpetrators could be charged under the Prevention of Crime Act 1953, the Criminal Justice Act 1988 or the Offensive Weapons Act 2019.
  • Violence: They could be charged under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 or for murder.
  • Sexual offences: If there is any sexual violence, the perpetrator could be charged under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
  • Modern Slavery: There may be occasions where the perpetrator is charged under the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
  • Inchoate Offences: Sometimes these activities involve assisting or encouraging an offence, which means perpetrators can be charged under the Serious Crime Act 2007 (sections 44-46).

Other enforceable powers might also be used. These include: 

  • Gang injunctions: These are court orders that target a specific group that is considered to be a public nuisance. Activities are restricted to a specific area.
  • Civil injunctions: These are judicial orders that are designed to prevent injustice and resolve disputes.
  • Slavery and Trafficking Risk Orders (STROs): These prevent serious harm to the public by preventing child criminal exploitation.
  • Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Orders (STPOs). These are aimed at people convicted or cautioned or who might be. The restrictions can be wide-ranging and may contain travel prohibitions.
  • Closure Orders: This prohibits access to specific premises for a period specified. This is not longer than 3 months.
  • Drug Dealing Telecommunication Restriction Orders (DDTRO): This aims to disrupt county lines drug dealing. It allows mobile operators to close down phone lines, for example, so that communication is restricted.
  • Asset recovery: This has to do with the proceeds of corruption. It is aimed at depriving people of the proceeds of crime and disrupting the further funding of crime.

Prosecutors work closely with law enforcement agencies and other relevant stakeholders to gather evidence, build strong cases and pursue charges against perpetrators. Victims of exploitation are provided with support and assistance throughout the legal proceedings, ensuring their voices are heard and their needs are addressed.

Overall, the sentencing and prosecution processes play a crucial role in holding individuals involved in child criminal exploitation accountable for their actions.

Support Services and Victim Protections

Support services and victim protections are paramount in addressing the needs of those who have been exploited and ensuring their well-being and recovery. In the United Kingdom, a range of provisions and initiatives are in place to provide comprehensive support and protection to victims of child criminal exploitation.

One key legal provision is the Victims’ Code. This sets out the rights and entitlements of victims of crime, including those who have experienced child exploitation. The code ensures that victims receive information about their cases, access to support services and the opportunity to participate in the criminal justice process. Additionally, victims are entitled to receive protection measures, such as anonymity or special measures in court, to safeguard their safety and privacy.

A range of agencies and organisations play a crucial role in providing support and assistance to victims of child exploitation. These include law enforcement agencies, social services, healthcare professionals, and other organisations specialising in victim support. Examples include Catch22, the NSPCC, Victim Support and The Children’s Society. These agencies work to ensure that victims receive the necessary support, such as counselling, advocacy and practical assistance, tailored to their individual needs.

Examples of possible support available include:

  • Services to support trauma recovery (counselling and therapy).
  • Group support.
  • Supported living.
  • SafeCall. This is a confidential national helpline for anyone worried about child criminal exploitation and county lines.
  • 1:1 support for young people and families.

Additionally, efforts are made to raise awareness of child exploitation and promote early intervention and prevention strategies. Public awareness campaigns, training programmes for professionals and community initiatives aim to educate individuals about the signs of exploitation, encourage reporting of concerns and empower communities to protect children from harm.

legal measures against child exploitation

Conclusion

The legal measures and protections discussed in this article show the critical importance of a comprehensive legal framework in combatting child criminal exploitation in the United Kingdom. Though the UK legal system is designed to address this egregious violation of children’s rights, there is more to be done. 

Key legislative instruments such as the Modern Slavery Act 2015 provide a framework for prosecuting perpetrators and protecting vulnerable children. These laws, alongside the Children Act 1989 and other relevant legislation, emphasise the importance of safeguarding the welfare of children and ensuring their protection from exploitation.

Moreover, legal provisions for reporting suspected cases of exploitation and protections for whistleblowers are in identifying and addressing instances of exploitation, while child protection orders impose restrictions on individuals who pose a threat to children’s safety.

The Child Criminal Exploitation Bill in Parliament is needed to establish changes in the situation. Child criminal exploitation is not currently defined in the Modern Slavery Act and so changes are needed. The bill calls for a register of offenders. 

In essence, a comprehensive legal framework is essential to combatting child criminal exploitation effectively. By making changes to legislation and combining legislative measures with robust enforcement, support services and prevention strategies, vulnerable children can be saved from being exploited. What’s more, perpetrators can be held accountable for their actions.

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About the author

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Louise Woffindin

Louise is a writer and translator from Sheffield. Before turning to writing, she worked as a secondary school language teacher. Outside of work, she is a keen runner and also enjoys reading and walking her dog Chaos.



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