Children and adolescents are both victims and perpetrators in the business model of criminal networks, according to a new report from the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå) that alerts of a grim situation. Children as young as twelve years old are being recruited into criminal networks by children only a few years older.
Last Wednesday, Brå (the Swedish national council for crime prevention) published a new report on the recruitment of children and young people into criminal networks. Most at risk are children who have already committed less serious crimes and misdemeanors. Others who are particularly vulnerable are young people who hang out in crime-ridden areas or who know someone in the networks.
Particularly bleak and striking is the fact that in many cases it is children who recruit other children. Adolescents between the ages of 15 and 20 may recruit individuals as young as 12, according to the report.
Cheap labor force
Recruited children are primarily used to store, transport, and sell narcotics. After a while, they may be assigned other tasks, such as assisting in fraud, transporting weapons, or, in the worst cases, committing acts of violence.
Younger children provide cheap labor for gangs by performing dangerous jobs with a high risk of detection, thereby helping criminal gangs to grow.
– You can pay children less than older people. You can also make them take different risks. It is easier to manipulate children, says Katharina Tollin, project manager of the study.
Once children and youth become involved in gang crime, it is often difficult for them to leave the criminal path.
– The networks consist of several age layers, and the higher age layers depend on the money coming in from below. In order for those in the lower tiers to move up, they need to recruit their own runners to help them earn more money.
Chat apps and social media
The report emphasizes that social media and chat apps, along with the physical environment of youth, have become increasingly important to gang recruitment. The digital reach allows gangs to reach young people outside their own local area.
– Being on social media also allows them to spread their message and showcase their lifestyle to a wider audience, says Katharina Tollin.
One solution presented in the report to help children leave the criminal networks is so-called “windows of time”, which refer to occasions when it is easier for children to leave the criminal path. Examples of such windows are when their older so-called role models are caught, leave the country, or simply die.
– There’s an opportunity to sneak out, to get help to get out. The authorities have to take advantage of these time windows and have cooperative structures in place because this has to happen very quickly, concludes Katharina Tollin.