SEVENTEEN children were victims of human trafficking in Sussex last year.

The latest figures published by the National Crime Agency (NCA) show Sussex Police dealt with trafficking and slavery cases involving 15 adults and 17 children.

More than 5,415 potential victims were referred to the NCA across the UK– a rise of 35% on last year.

Child victims were being used by “county lines” drug gangs the report found.

Sussex Police and Brighton and Hove City Council have identified this type of drug dealing as a particular problem. Big city gangs send children to towns in Sussex to act as drug runners responding to single telephone number based ordering system fr drugs.

The NSPCC said the NCA’s figures reflected their own research.

The charity has had more than 2,000 children referred to it since 2007 – with victims sexually exploited, forced into domestic servitude as well as being forced into drug dealing, cannabis production and other criminal activity.

A spokeswoman for the NSPCC said: “These figures reflect what our Child Trafficking Advice Centre is seeing, with despicable traffickers seeking to exploit and profit from hundreds of innocent children."