Children as young as seven being targeted by gangs to sell drugs (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)


CHILDREN as young as seven are being targeted by “chicken shop gangs”, a parliamentary investigation has found.

As part of its investigation into the UK’s knife crime epidemic, the committee found that the criminals persuade children to deal drugs for them. Children who had been excluded from school are particularly targeted.

“Some [young people] shared that their peers had been targeted by gangs outside of Pupil Referral Units, as well as outside sports centres,” the youth justice boar of England and Wales reported in evidence.

“They also said that sometimes children are recruited through an offer of food (referred to as chicken shop gangs) and they felt that schools could do more to keep children in school as it could be a protective factor from gang involvement.”

The news comes just weeks after The Children’s Society warned that drug gangs were recruiting children as young as seven.

Natasha Chopra, the charity’s London disrupting exploitation programme manager, said cuts to youth services have resulted in more children spending time in places where they could be targeted.

“Young people tend to go to places like fast food chains of a cheaper cost. Young people may use certain fast food chains as a place to socialise,” she was quoted as saying.

“In terms of exploitation, these exploiters know that these young people are going to be at a vast range of fast food chains.

“That’s when the ‘targeted’ stage comes in, because exploiters will actually watch and observe the young people.

“They will watch and they will check and think, ‘ok this particular young person comes in at this time, they leave at this time. Why are they not going home?’

“That’s the way it will start, with a conversation like: ‘hi, here’s some chicken or here’s some chips’ and that relationship can form quite easily.”

In the next phase of exploitation, children could be offered around £20 to act as a lookout for a criminal gang. Once involved in the gang, children could be prevented from leaving with threats towards family members and friends, said Chopra.