Fresh warnings over the link between child trafficking and cannabis farming have been made after evidence that at least 150 youngsters were forced into slave labour at illicit drugs factories in Scotland in the past three years.
Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Scottish LibDem leader, said most cannabis users “probably don’t have the faintest idea” that child slavery plays a big role in marijuana cultivation after it emerged that 147 trafficked children from countries such as Vietnam were identified in Scotland between January 2019 and February 2022.
More than a third (36 per cent) were put to work in cannabis factories, predominantly across Scotland’s central belt. “People need to be alerted to the dark underbelly of this industry. Most cannabis users probably don’t have the faintest idea that child slavery is behind it and that it’s happening right here in Scotland, so these statistics will come as a shock,” said Cole-Hamilton.
“Police and social workers must have the resources they need to intervene and help retrieve trafficked children from the grip of the criminal gangs. It’s time also to learn the lessons of the decades-long war on drugs instead of making the same old mistakes, because drugs won.”
The figures emerged in data collected by the Scottish Guardianship Service (SGS), which supports unaccompanied asylum-seeking and trafficked children who arrive in Scotland alone. The service is run by the Aberlour Child Care Trust which said trafficked children were typically aged 16 to 17 but some were as young as 14.
In 2020-21 the top five countries of origin for unaccompanied children arriving in Scotland were Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. There were indicators that trafficking and exploitation might have been involved in almost 60 per cent of young people referred to the service.
Cole-Hamilton said the children who made it to the care of the SGS were “the lucky ones”. “The terrible truth is that cannabis is cultivated by children who have been trafficked to Scotland and then held in conditions of slavery.”
Detective Superintendent Fil Capaldi, head of Police Scotland’s Human Trafficking Unit, said efforts to identify children exploited in the drugs trade had improved. He added: “Continuing to improve on our support for victims, as well as raising public awareness, remain key to identifying more potential victims and to targeting traffickers.”
Source: The TimesCategories: News