The United Kingdom is being plagued by cannabis farms run by Vietnamese criminal syndicates that exploit trafficked children, according to ECPAT UK, a leading British children’s rights group.

ECPAT claim there has been a rapid rise in the number of cannabis farms in the country, with trafficked youngsters from Vietnam being made to work in them as “gardeners”, Viet Nam News reports.

ECPAT’s operations have revealed that children are beaten and even subjected to death threats if they refuse to obey the criminals who operate the drug farms. Many of them are also arrested during police raids and end up being jailed for crimes they were forced to commit, all because of fears of repercussions their parents may face back home in Vietnam.

In December, a group of 16 Vietnamese nationals were jailed after their drug operation was busted in northwest England.

Stu Peall, a police officer in Lancashire, said that Vietnamese cannabis farmers have been causing trouble in the country for years. He added that going after individual farmers is futile and that controllers must be taken down as well.

Gangs often travel across Europe to get to the UK to seek out low-cost rental housing, where they establish sophisticated drug production lines. Houses are fitted with hydroponic growing systems with high-powered lights that boost cannabis growth rates.

Statistics released by the UK’s National Crime Agency show that in 2017, people of Vietnamese origin ranked second-highest among nationalities submitted to the National Referral Mechanism, a framework devised to identify victims of human trafficking or modern slavery. Of those referred, 362 out of 739 arrested were children.

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