CHILDREN as young as 12 are being used as drug dealers by other older youngsters and teenagers, police have revealed.
The shocking news has come to light as part of an on-going clampdown on child exploitation.
Gangs of teenagers have been recruiting children to deal drugs and commit robberies, police said.
As reported in The News, officers are tackling county lines gangs, who come from bigger cities, in a bid to protect children and addicts being exploited.
A spokesman for Hampshire police said: ‘In Portsmouth officers have been targeting a group of children and young adults who are believed to be exploiting younger children, some as young as 12, to commit crimes, including drug supply, robberies and shoplifting.
‘To disrupt this criminal behaviour, neighbourhood policing teams have issued child abduction warning notices and conducted targeted patrols in hotspot locations.
‘As part of the operation, a 16-year-old old boy from Portsmouth and a 15-year-old boy from Southsea were arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the supply of Class A drugs.’
The news comes ahead of Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Day on Sunday.
Police say tacking this form of crime is a year-round priority, with a officers on the force’s missing and exploited team working to safeguard youngsters who may be vulnerable to abuse.
Detective Inspector Ross Toms of the Hampshire Constabulary missing and exploited team said: ‘This type of activity relies on information from the community and our partners. It helps us to build a picture of exploitation and risk to young people and identify opportunities for us to take action.
‘I would encourage all parents, teachers and others who work with young people to be aware of the signs a child could be being exploited and contact us or one of our partners with information.
‘In most cases these you are the key to victims getting help, as those wrapped up in the world of exploitation are often unable or refuse to admit there is an issue.’
As part of the week of action has been focused on safeguarding high-risk victims and proactively pursuing those committing crimes.
Search warrants and arrests carried out in separate actions in Waterlooville, and elsewhere in the county, following intelligence gathered on child exploitation.
To find out more about the signs of exploitation click here.
A free education programme is available for schools, colleges, parents and young people in the county. For more, click here.