UK drug information organisation DrugScope has highlighted the plight of child "slaves" forced to work in illicit UK cannabis farms.
According to the organisation, the mainly Vietnamese victims are trafficked into Britain and "coerced into working as 'human sprinkler systems' to water and tend plants in UK cannabis farms" - two thirds to three quarters of which are run by Vietnamese criminal gangs.
We should point out that the farms in question are purely urban, with kids as young as 14 "living in cupboards and lofts to maximise space for plants, in houses powered by electricity running from makeshift connections to mains supplies". According to the London Fire Brigade, 50 such installations were detected in the capital last year "because of house fires caused by faulty lights or re-wiring".
While the Home Office in June published a report into child trafficking which "identified Vietnamese young people as a vulnerable group who had been particularly exploited in cannabis production", it also fingered several cases where the "slaves" had been jailed for their unwilling participation in cannabis cultivation.
Accordingly, the report "called on the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to avoid prosecuting trafficked cannabis farmers", while Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald, told an All Party Parliamentary Group on trafficking in July he would "be warning prosecutors to take into account the back story of children found working in cannabis factories".
DrugScope's chief executive, Martin Barnes, said: "Some have considered large-scale cannabis cultivation as an almost 'victimless crime' but the reality is that vulnerable young people are being exploited.
"Unfortunately they find themselves victims twice over – both at the hands of the criminal gangs who brought them to this country, forcing them to work in cramped, dangerous conditions to fuel the illegal drug trade - and again when they find themselves treated as criminals by the UK authorities.
"DrugScope urges the Home Office to issue formal guidance as soon as possible to the UK courts. These children should not be serving jail terms – they should be given support and protection." ®