27,000 UK children are in gangs
New report from Children’s Commissioner says tackling child criminal exploitation should be ‘national priority’
More than 27,000 children in England are thought to be members of criminal gangs but only a fraction are known to the authorities, according to a new report by the Children’s Commissioner.
Criminal groups are believed to be targeting children for recruitment, especially girls “because their ‘profile’ means they are less likely to be known to police”, reports the Evening Standard.
A former gang member told Sky News youngsters were encouraged to join so they could earn respect from their seniors.
“There’s a sense of those pushing you to do it, but at the end of the day the decision comes to you,” said the man, now 23.
“When you sit down and speak to some of these youths, they’re lost. When I mean lost, in the sense of, they’re literally following and going along with it. A lot of them don’t know who they are or what they want to do. They just want to do what seems to be cool and on top of that to be fair there’s nothing really to do,” he added.
The new report has prompted calls for the Government to designate child criminal exploitation a “national priority”.
Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield said gangs were using “sophisticated techniques” to groom children and “chilling levels of violence” to keep them compliant.
The 27,000 estimate is based on an annual crime survey run by the Office for National Statistics, asking a representative sample of households about their experience of crime.
For the past three years, it has asked children aged between ten and 15 whether they considered themselves to be a member of a street gang.
Of about 4,000 children quizzed last year, 0.7% said they considered themselves to be in a gang - which equates to around 27,000 nationwide.
That number is at odds with the 6,560 children known by youth offending teams or children’s services to be involved in gangs.
Longfield’s report concludes that the difference between the higher and lower figure “is down to the fact that most gang members are not known to authorities”.
“It is certainly likely that there is a group of young people involved with gangs who are not known to the authorities,” says the BBC.
And although “information of gang membership is difficult to capture, we do know that knife carrying among children is increasing”, adds the broadcaster.
The study “echoes previous research which has linked rising levels of knife crime to a surge in the number of exclusions”, says Tes, formerly the Times Educational Supplement.
According to figures from the Ministry of Justice, almost 21% of 21,380 knife possession offences last year involved ten to 17-year-olds. Since 2014, the number of knife possession offences committed by this age group has increased by 70%.
Longfield’s report recommends several measures to tackle the problem of child gangs including: the Government laying out clear expectations about the role of all organisations working with children; joint inspections between Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission and the police rolled out across England; and more emphasis on the early years within the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy.
Responding to the report, a Government spokesperson said: “We have proposed a new statutory duty on partners across education, social services and health to work together to tackle violence as part of a public health approach, and are providing £220m to support children and young people at risk of becoming involved in violence and gangs.”