The children’s commissioner has said that pupils should be taught how to avoid falling into gang life or being exploited by older criminals.
Anne Longfield has said that personal, social, health and economics education (PSHE) lessons should be used to help children spot when they are being lured into criminal activity.
The statement follows a number of reports involving children being used as “money mules” by criminals.
Longfield said that young people who are looking for “a sense of belonging, fast money” or “glamour” were at risk, with research finding that around 46,000 children are currently caught up in English gangs.
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live’s Sunday Breakfast programme, the children’s commissioner said children as young as 10 were being recruited into gangs that could be “extremely violent, usually intimidatory and sexually abusive, particularly towards girls”.
“These are horrific situations that young people are getting themselves into.”
Simon Dukes, chief executive of the fraud prevention organisation Cifas, believes that some children were being convinced that it was their duty to hand over access to their bank accounts, so that criminals can use them for money laundering schemes.
Dukes also said that criminals are enticing children through social media, promising them the opportunity to make money quick and easily.
“Criminals, of course, prey on the most vulnerable and they’re preying on younger people because of their lack of knowledge, in particular, about what is effectively money laundering.”
Ms Longfield said other young people were being used to transport drugs.
“Anecdotally, I’m told that middle-class children are often being targeted as well because they are less likely to be stopped.
“Children who are easier to intimidate, vulnerable in some way and often being bullied, those that are easier to control, are being picked on.”
The government recently announced that PSHE would become a compulsory subject across all state schools in England, with consultations ongoing to decide the content of the subject’s curriculum. As yet, there has been no timeframe given for the introduction of the subject.
Ms Longfield said: “For younger children it will often be the draw of fast money – sometimes protection for themselves if they’re fearful about their own wellbeing – but certainly also a sense of belonging, fast money, sometimes glamour…
“Life skills is something that the government has committed itself to do.
“Most schools at the moment do provide life skill lessons but they’re often inconsistent and often they don’t tackle some of these issues that are much harder to tackle.”
Longfield has also called for better data collation on the targeting of children by gangs, saying that police forces nationwide need to be working together to ensure the safety of vulnerable children.
The PSHE Association, a national body working to improve PSHE education, issued a message of support for the campaign, saying that it was important that young people understand “the specific risks of gang membership for individuals, families and communities”.
A spokesman said a broad PSHE education “gives pupils the knowledge and skills to better understand peer influence, and helps them recognise and avoid exploitative relationships, online and offline”.