The British Government's intelligence and police forces are using children as "covert human intelligence source (CHIS)" in operations against criminal gangs, drug dealers and terrorist criminal organizations, as a report by a House of Lords committee revealed last week.
A child in the United Kingdom is now authorized to serve as a CHIS or undercover informant for the period of 1 month. The Home Office has requested that that period be prolonged for up to 4 months.
"The Order proposes to extend the period from one month to four months for which a person under 18 years of age can be used as a covert human intelligence source (CHIS)," according to a report released by the House of Lords citing correspondence between Minister of State for Security and Economic Crime at the Home Office Right Hon. Ben Wallace and Chairman of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, Lord Trefgarne.
"We are concerned that enabling a young person to participate in covert activity for an extended period of time may expose them to increased risks to their mental and physical welfare," the committee responded, in the July 12 report, explaining that "the change may be founded on administrative convenience," instead of taking the effects of the minors into consideration.
The committee highlighted that the Explanatory Memorandum that accompanied the proposed legislation failed to explain how the wellbeing of these children would be a priority. "It does not make clear how the welfare of the young person in this situation will be taken into account," the statement said.
The petition from the Home Office came as a way to lighten administrative procedures, since the "pressure to obtain results could be unhelpful to the juvenile CHIS and also to the law enforcement agency, in so far as it can make the deployment more difficult to manage given the imperative to ensure the safety and welfare of the young person, and could lead to the investigation progressing in a way that does not achieve the best long-term result."
The Home Office also proposed that the authorization would be reviewed once a month by an officer to ensure safeguards that allow the safety and welfare of the minor, as a way to ensure that the deployment is still "necessary and proportionate."
“It can be difficult to gather evidence on gangs without penetrating their membership through the use of juvenile CHIS. As well as provide intelligence dividend in relation to a specific gang, juvenile CHIS can give investigators a broader insight into, for example, how young people in gangs are communicating with each other,” Wallace expressed in the exchange with the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee.
Serious questions have been raised by human and children rights organizations.
"Under domestic and international law, decisions which affect children must be taken in their best interests. Their welfare must be the primary consideration. It is difficult to imagine any circumstance where it would be in a child’s best interest to be used as an informant," the Rights Watch (UK) posted on social media.
"I cannot hide from you the Committee’s considerable anxiety concerning the principle of employing young people – sometimes very young people – in this way," the report from the House of Lords concluded.