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A prominent child protection expert has sounded the alarm on the grave threat posed to tens of thousands of children at risk of being lured into criminal activities by organized gangs.

Professor Alexis Jay, renowned for uncovering the extent of sexual exploitation in Rotherham, emphasized the urgent need to address what she described as an "immediate and preventable crisis." Speaking to BBC News, she lamented the absence of a national strategy to combat the criminal exploitation of children and called for the enactment of new legislation to address the issue.

The Home Office responded by pledging up to £5 million to support victims of such exploitation. This initiative aims to assist vulnerable children, particularly those from impoverished backgrounds or with mental health challenges, who are targeted, groomed, and coerced into criminal activities by these gangs.

Drawing parallels with the tactics employed by grooming gangs in cases of sexual abuse, Professor Jay highlighted how children are enticed into criminality through befriending and rewards. These children are coerced into dealing drugs, handling weapons, and engaging in various criminal acts, including robberies and theft.

To counteract this growing menace, Professor Jay called for a comprehensive national strategy and the introduction of legislation specifically addressing child criminal exploitation. She stressed the urgent need for coordinated and concerted efforts to tackle the issue.

The Home Office's funding commitment includes provisions for programs such as helplines for victims exploited by drug gangs, specialized support services for young individuals under 25, and initiatives targeting the prevention of targeting, grooming, and exploitation.

Meanwhile, efforts in Scotland focus on diverting children away from exploitation and criminality, with the Scottish Government emphasizing the importance of collaboration with law enforcement, Action for Children, and local authorities to enhance responses to the issue.

In testimonies from impacted communities, individuals shared harrowing accounts of exploitation and violence perpetuated by these criminal gangs. Victims described how they were manipulated and coerced into criminal activities, with their lives controlled by fear and intimidation.

For Joe, a teenager from Glasgow, involvement with a crime gang meant a life fraught with violence and isolation. Despite the dangers of speaking out, he bravely shared his experiences, shedding light on the grim realities faced by vulnerable children ensnared by these gangs.

The plight of children like Joe underscores the urgent need for intervention and support mechanisms to break the cycle of exploitation. Early intervention and holistic support, as exemplified by initiatives like Action for Children, are crucial in offering vulnerable children a pathway out of exploitation and towards a brighter future. Photo by Steve Cadman, Wikimedia commons.