Adults who draw children into crime face up to five years in prison under new laws

Legislation aims to recognise impact and harm done to children by drawing them into criminal activity

29/04/16 Gardai at the scene in South Dublin this morning where they are commencing a dig for the bodies of two babies who were the result of abuse of a child in the 60's and 70's.. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin. crime stock ****NB HOUSE CANNOT BE IDENTIFIED***

Adults who draw children into crime face up to five years in prison under new legislation which has come into force on Friday.

The Criminal Justice (Engagement of Children in Criminal Activity) Act 2024 makes it an offence for an adult to either force or encourage children to engage in any criminal activity, has commenced.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said an estimated 1,000 children from “challenging backgrounds” are at risk of being drawn into petty theft of drug-dealing by adults.

Those found guilty of the new offences may face imprisonment of up to 12 months on summary conviction and up to five years on indictment.


The legislation was introduced to recognise the lifelong impact and harm done to children by drawing them into criminal activity.

It is one of a set of measures being progressed by the Department of Justice under the Youth Justice Strategy 2021-2027 to address youth offending.

Under strategy, the department has established an “intensive intervention pilot” – called the Greentown programme – focused on disrupting organised crime groups who lure children into crime, and improving outcomes for children at risk or already engaged in criminal networks.

Ms McEntee said the new legislation will be an “important tool in the arsenal of gardaí to disrupt criminal networks and pursue those who use vulnerable young people to keep their own hands clean.

“This important legislation will criminalise adults who are ruining young people’s lives and blighting their communities by forcing or enticing them into criminal lifestyles,” she said.

“While offending might start small, it often snowballs into something more serious and suddenly there is no way out for a young person whose life can become plagued by debts, fear and intimidation”

She said law enforcement must pursue those who do the harm, but also work to undo the harm.

The Greentown Programme, she said, provides “intensive wraparound supports and interventions” for young people either at risk of or already influenced by criminal networks. This includes supports for the positive development and diversion of the affected children, as well as their family members.

Minister of State with responsibility for Youth Justice James Browne said a holistic approach is needed to change and reduce youth offending. This included criminalising those who induce children into criminal activity, creating “pro-social opportunities” for young people at risk and intensive interventions for those who are already involved in criminality to improve their long-term outcomes.

“The reality is that some children are dealt a losing hand when they have people in their lives – it could be a parent, a cousin, a sibling, a neighbour – who actively exploit them. These people do immeasurable harm to the life of a young person and this legislation recognises that,” he said.

“Young people may be coerced, forced or enticed by promises of wealth and social status, but what may seem like a quick way to make money or even as something glamorous or cool, very typically turns sour.”

A criminal conviction can seriously affect young people’s opportunities to travel abroad, to gain access to education or work, all of which can set people on to worse paths.

This legislation will help to prevent the next generation from being used and abused by criminal gangs, and will contribute to the building of safer, stronger communities. ”

A key objective in handling youth crime is to try to keep young people out of the criminal justice system as far as possible. The provisions in the legislation limit liability for the offences to adults in order to avoid further consequences for children who are already victims of crime themselves and who may also have been groomed.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent