The UK government has been using child spies in law enforcement and counter-terrorism operations, new reports reveal.
Children as young as 16 are being used to spy on terrorists, drug dealers and grooming gangs by police and intelligence services in Britain.
Reports of the practice which have been equated “to state-sanctioned child abuse” first surfaced during a debate in the House of Lords.
Since the reports surfaced on Friday, the government has faced a growing uproar for its use of child spies. David Davis a former Conservative minister who resigned from his cabinet post less than two weeks ago called out the tactic for being “morally repugnant.”
Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary said that the government must immediately put an end to the practice and be answerable to why it existed at all.
“Our children should be protected, not intentionally put in precarious situations involving serious and violent crime,” she said. “It beggars belief that the Home Office, with responsibility for safeguarding and vulnerability, has the gall to ask members for even more time to expose children to gang culture and crime.”
“There appear to be no guarantees from the government that safeguarding measures are in place, no indication of parental authorisation, and no detail on whether these ‘child spies’ are given any support once they have finished with them.”
Parallels have also been drawn comparing child spies to child soldiers. CAGE Research director, Asim Qureshi said: “This latest revelation amounts to evidence of state-sanctioned child abuse.”
“This is nothing more than the recruitment of child soldiers in a more sugar-coated guise” he added, concluding the statement with a call for the “immediate cessation of such abuse.”
However, despite the outcry against the practice, the government is seeking to pass new laws giving law enforcement more freedoms when using children as spies, potentially putting their lives at risk.
The government has said that the use of children as “covert human intelligence sources” could rise as teenagers are ‘increasingly drawn into extremism.’
Theresa May’s spokeswoman defended the use of child spies saying:
“Juvenile covert human intelligence sources are used very rarely and they’re only used when it is very necessary and proportionate, for example helping to prevent gang violence, drug dealing and the ‘county lines’ Phenomenon. The use is governed by a very strict legal framework.”
Yet members of the House of Lords said that the ‘code of practice’ used to maintain the welfare of child spies is “very vague” regarding the measures of protection extended to children working for the security services both during and afterwards.
The same report concluded that the Home office “also fails to explain how the authorising officer is supposed to weigh the intelligence benefits against the potential negative impact on the juvenile sources.”