UK government defends the use of under 16s as covert operatives

A spokeswoman for UK Prime Minister Theresa May has gone to the House of Lords to defend the government's practice of recruiting "child spies," some of them under the age of 15, to gather intelligence "against terrorists, gangs and drug dealers."

The government spokesperson said that children were only used in this way when it was necessary and then only briefly.

Rosalind Comyn, a legal and policy officer at the charity Rights Watch (UK), said: "Enlisting children as foot soldiers in the darkest corners of policing, and intentionally exposing them to terrorism, crime or sexual abuse rings – potentially without parental consent – runs directly counter to the government's human rights obligations, which demand the interests of children be placed at the heart of decisions which affect them.

The Home Office said: "Juvenile covert human intelligence sources are used very rarely and only ever when it is necessary and proportionate and when there is no other less intrusive way to get the information needed to convict criminals or terrorist suspects."

Child spies used only when very necessary, says Downing Street
[Damien Gayle, Ian Cobain and Peter Walker/The Guardian]