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What is child exploitation

Child exploitation is when someone uses a child for financial gain, sexual gratification, labour or personal advantage.

Using cruel and violent treatment to force a child to take part in criminal or sexual activities leads to physical and emotional harm to the child.

Children can be exploited in different ways, and sometimes in more than one way at the same time.

Information on the different types of child exploitation can be found below;

Child Sexual Exploitation is a form of sexual abuse. In return for gifts, money, drugs, affection, and status, children and young people are coerced, manipulated and deceived into performing sexual activities.

It is not just something that affects teenage girls or specific groups and can happen in and out of school.

Children and young people can be tricked into believing they are part of a loving and consensual relationship that could be framed as friendship, mentoring or romantic. Children as young as 8 have been sexually exploited.

Child criminal exploitation is where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance in power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child into taking part in criminal activity, in exchange for something the child needs or wants or through violence or the threat of violence.

Children may still have been criminally exploited even if the activity appears to be something they have agreed or consented to.

County lines are illegal drug dealing networks between cities, small towns and rural locations. Children and young people are coerced, using intimidation, blackmail and violence, to transport and sell drugs, cash and weapons across the country via dedicated mobile phone lines which may be referred to as “deal lines”.

Online abuse is a form of child abuse that happens on the internet. It can happen across any device that’s connected to the internet like phones, tablets, computers, laptops and game consoles.

It can happen anywhere online, including on:

  • social media
  • instant messaging and text apps
  • online chats
  • online gaming
  • live streaming sites
  • emails

A child can experience different types of online abuse including those types of abuse linked to child exploitation such as grooming, sexting, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation.

As children talk to more strangers online, it’s important to make them aware of the potential risks and how to put online safety first.

Modern slavery includes human trafficking, slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour. Exploitation takes a number of forms, including sexual exploitation, forced labour, forced criminality, begging, organ harvesting and domestic servitude. Victims may come from all walks of life.

Traffickers may use grooming techniques to gain the trust of a child, family or community. They may trick, force or persuade children to leave their homes.

Child trafficking can involve a network of organised criminals who recruit, transport and exploit children and young people within or across borders. Some people in the network might not be directly involved in trafficking a child but play a part in other ways – such as falsifying documents, bribery, owning or renting premises, or money laundering .

Child trafficking can also be organised by individuals and children’s own families.


The word ‘gang’ means different things in different contexts, the government in their paper ‘Safeguarding children and young people who may be affected by gang activity’ distinguishes between peer groups, street gangs and organised criminal gangs.

  • Peer group
    A relatively small and transient social grouping which may or may not describe themselves as a gang depending on the context.
  • Street gang
    “Groups of young people who see themselves (and are seen by others) as a discernible group for whom crime and violence is integral to the group’s identity.”
  • Organised criminal gangs
    “A group of individuals for whom involvement in crime is for personal gain (financial or otherwise). For most crime is their ‘occupation.”

It’s not illegal for a young person to be in a gang – there are different types of ‘gang’ and not every ‘gang’ is criminal or dangerous. However, gang membership can be linked to illegal activity, particularly organised criminal gangs involved in trafficking, drug dealing and violent crime.

Children and young people may become involved in gangs for many reasons, including:

    • peer pressure and wanting to fit in with their friends
    • they feel respected and important and like they belong, they want to gain status, and feel powerful
    • they want to feel protected from other gangs, or bullies
    • they want to make money, and are promised rewards
    • they’ve been excluded from school and don’t feel they have a future
    • social media may also play a significant part in recruiting children for criminal exploitation

Organised criminal gangs groom children and young people because they’re often very  vulnerable, easily manipulated and controlled and more suspectable to coercion. Children and young people are less likely to report criminal behaviour through fear and the need to belong.

Children can be exposed to different views and receive information from various sources. Some of these views may be considered radical or extreme.

Radicalisation is the process through which a person comes to support or be involved in extremist ideologies or beliefs. It can result in a person becoming drawn into terrorism (or commit terrorist acts) and radicalisation is in itself a form of harm.

The process of becoming radicalised is different for everyone and can take place very quickly, or over a long period of time, in different ways so children and young people who are drawn into it may not realise what it is that they are being drawn into.

You can find out more about radicalisation on our webpage for parents and carers.