County lines crackdown may criminalise exploited children, campaigners warn

Children who have been coerced and threatened into carrying or dealing drugs by county lines gangs must not be criminalised under new government plans, campaigners have warned.

The 10-year Drugs Strategy (Home Office, 2021), which was unveiled on Monday (December 6), has allocated £300m to “dismantle” more than 2,000 county lines operations.

The plans also signal a crackdown on illegal drug use and allocate £780m for treatment and recovery, which it says will target the 300,000 crack and heroin users who are thought to be responsible for half of all “acquisitive crime”, including burglaries, robberies and shop thefts.

However, the Children’s Society said this week that it is worried vulnerable children who have been coerced and threatened into county lines activity could be caught up in the crackdown.

For its part, the government says its measures will build on the County Lines Programme, which the Home Office says has already closed 1,500 lines, made more than 7,400 arrests and safeguarded more than 4,000 vulnerable adults and children.

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