Child Spies

The High Court in the UK has ruled that it is lawful to employ children as spies. The UK government was being sued by the charity Just for Kids over the use of children to gather intelligence by police and other bodies. They are known as “Juvenile Covert Human Intelligence Sources” (JCHIS). In the old days, they would have simply been called “informants.” The High Court ruled that the practice is acceptable as long as there is a reasonable “system of oversight” in place. Just For Kids is considering an appeal.

This dispute does not concern large numbers of children. During the case it was revealed that just seventeen children had been employed in this role in the last four years. The youngest was fifteen. Of course, the use of children as spies has a long precedent. In Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s, the IRA used children as spotters on estates they controlled to raise the alarm if they spotted British surveillance teams or vehicles. During the Second World War, young girls were used as bicycle couriers in occupied Europe.

During the First World War, the SIS station at The Hague hired children on the Belgian side of the border. At the time Holland was neutral territory and Belgium was occupied by the Germans. The two countries were separated by a perimeter fence that was heavily patrolled and, in places, electrified. The children were trained to play ball games as close as possible to the perimeter fence. At the right moment they would throw a dummy ball, usually a tennis ball, over or through the fence. This was then collected by an agent on the Dutch side. The balls contained secret messages.

And of course, one of the oldest child spies recorded, albeit a fictional one, was Kim the hero of Rudyard Kipling’s novel. The memory test known as Kim’s Game is still a basic element of spy training – although these days it tends to be in some sort of electronic form.

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