The recent success of Netflix series, Top Boy has sparked intense debate; is it an accurate representation of the lives of those involved in East London drug gangs?
Does it glamorise gang culture and extreme violence?
Opinions differ, and whatever the correct one is, I personally found the series intensely gripping, so much so that I watched both series 1 and 2 in one day.
The series depicts school children being approached by the likes of Dushane and Sully, veterans in the drug dealing game. The promise of money, power and ability to provide for your family is naturally appealing to anyone, let alone young and vulnerable people on the breadline.
Top Boy is hugely popular because of its famous stars such as Kano and Dave, fans such as Drake, and its new Netflix platform. Although the series does not specifically focus on ‘County Lines’ drug dealing, tenuously, it does allow me to draw attention to the use of young children as slaves in drug gangs. The term ‘County Lines’ is used when drugs gangs from big cities expand their operations into smaller towns. The gangs will recruit children as young as 11 to travel from cities such as London to rural areas in order to deal mostly heroin and crack cocaine. Raising awareness to this issue is essential in the fight against modern slavery and key in informing wider society on the epidemic of this crime.
Modern slavery is vastly under reported and unknown amongst the community. There are more slaves today than there ever have been, the number is estimated globally at around 46 million. One form of slavery rapidly increasing in the UK, according to the National Crime Agency, is that of the exploitation of children within County Lines operations.
The system is driven on violence, exploitation and vulnerability. Gangs exploit the vulnerable for their own financial gain using physical, psychological and often sexual abuse as tactics to coerce and control. Often children are forced into work by threats of harm against them or their family, keeping them within the gang. Sometimes, the previous conditions of the children are so awful that having food, a bed and a group of people seemingly supportive of them, is actually preferable. (Think Jason’s living conditions, circa series 2).
The Modern Slavery Act 2015 has proved relatively useful, thus far, in prosecuting those involved in this abhorrent crime. Section 2 of the act relates to Human Trafficking and defines the offence as a person arranging or facilitating ‘the travel of another person (“V”) with a view to V being exploited.’ Three drug dealers were prosecuted in May of this year for using girls and boys as young as 14 to smuggle heroin from London to Portsmouth. The fact that the children ‘consented' to do so is clearly no defence. Statutory defences lie within section 45 of the Act and finds the individual not guilty if ‘the compulsion is attributable to slavery or to relevant exploitation.'
Drug dealers are often all too happy to plead guilty to dealing class A drugs. This could potentially be a result of the glamorisation of dealing portrayed in shows like Top Boy; expensive cars, grime soundtrack and choreographed assassinations are cool, right? However, no one wants to plead guilty to the trafficking of vulnerable children, decidedly uncool. Whatever your view on Top Boy, there is no denying that the use of vulnerable children to sell class A drugs is a despicable crime and any legislation which aims to combat this should be championed.
Legislation is only one component of a multifaceted response that modern slavery requires. Although the Modern Slavery Act helps bring perpetrators to justice, law alone cannot provide the human connection required from those who have been subjected to slavery.
Their Voice can help provide support. The charity aims to empower victims of this crime supporting them at first instance, once placed in safe houses, and aiding them in their journey back into the community. Find out more on how you can support victims and fight to end modern slavery at www.theirvoicemodernslavery.org.uk.