A research report launched today (Tuesday 14 March) has found that despite high levels of organised crime in local areas and the elevated rates of exposure to violence in the community, the term ‘child criminal exploitation’ was new to many young people taking part in the study.
The report, ‘From Contextual to Criminal Harm: Young People’s Perceptions and Experiences of Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) in Northern Ireland’, explored young people’s perceptions and experiences of criminal exploitation. The study was led by Dr Colm Walsh, Research Fellow from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s.
The research found that young people were exposed to a range of harms in the home, in schools, and in their communities. Combined, these harms made some young people more vulnerable to criminal exploitation.
Exposure to violence, including being witness to and/or a victim of it, appeared to be a normal part of life for these young participants, and had become so normalised that even when they had experienced harm, they often failed to recognise their victimisation.
When asked about specific examples of when they had experienced (directly or indirectly) violence related harm, every young person could provide examples and these were situated within the context of their local areas, often within a few yards of their own homes. One participant described their first experience of higher harm violence when they were only 4 years old.
Other findings include:
The study concluded that there is a need to enhance safeguarding for youths vulnerable to criminal exploitation.
Speaking about the research findings, Dr Walsh commented: “This is an important but sobering study. This is the first study of its kind in the NI context documenting the perceptions and experiences of child criminal exploitation. Their voices illustrate the ways that some children and young people are being failed by a range of statutory agencies and how these missed opportunities to protect, provide others with opportunities to exploit for their own criminal gain.”
The research was funded by the Northern Ireland Executive’s Tackling Paramilitary Activity, Criminality & Organised Crime Programme. The Programme works across Northern Ireland to prevent and reduce paramilitary and criminal harm and violence. It invests in over 80 projects, delivered across the Executive by statutory agencies and partners in the voluntary and community sector.
Commenting on the event, Tackling Paramilitarism, Criminality and Organised Crime Programme Director, Adele Brown said: “Violence prevention is at the heart of our programme – we need good data and evidence to create projects that work. Today’s report on child criminal exploitation is an important first for Northern Ireland. It shows how, a generation on from the peace agreements, young people in Northern Ireland are still being exploited and manipulated by paramilitaries and criminals. This report gives young people a voice and we need to listen carefully to what they are telling us if we are to break the cycle of intergenerational harm.
“We’re delighted that so many people from so many sectors have joined us today to support this work and to discuss how collectively we can do more to address this complex problem.”
The research was carried out over a four-month period, from December 2021 – April 2022, with a total of 44 young people (28 male and 16 female between the age of 16-18) across Northern Ireland taking part in in-depth focus group interviews. All young people identified as either Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist (PUL) or Catholic/Nationalist/Republican (CNR), with the focus groups facilitated in Derry City, Carrickfergus, Craigavon, East Belfast, North Belfast, South Belfast and Woodvale.
To read the report please click on the download link below.