Findings taken from interviews with practitioners found more nine- to 14-year-olds are getting involved with gangs compared with two years ago.
They also estimated the age of the majority of gang members to now stand at 15 to 17, followed by 20 to 24 – slightly older than it was two years ago.
Half of respondents also said they believed the youngest age of gang members was 12 to 14, however a third said nine to 11 and less than 10 per cent thought there were gang members under the age of nine.
The report findings came from the perceptions of the 33 areas that make up the government’s Ending Gang and Youth Violence (EGYV) programme.
It further warns that gangs are using young people to transport drugs – especially in the capital. “Young people were said to be given targets for selling and punished if the targets were not met,” the report says.
An interviewee also claimed girls were being used to carry and hide weapons and prohibited items into prison, which was backed up by a gang associate and the mother of a gang associate.
Furthermore, it was reported that girls were carrying and storing drugs and firearms in their areas, as well as being sexually exploited and experiencing sexual or physical violence.
The Home Office study was also told of girls being used to set up encounters with rival gangs, while questions were raised over girls and their consent to sex, with an interviewee from London claiming that both girls and boys in gangs see group sex as “normal”.
Girls can also use sex to try to enhance their status within their gang, the report says.
The findings came as the Home Office launched a six-point strategy to end gang violence and exploitation.
Karen Bradley, minister for preventing abuse and exploitation, said: “Gang and youth violence has a devastating impact on young people, their families and local communities.
“Our new policy, Ending Gang Violence and Exploitation, sets out the government’s six key priorities to deal with what drives violence and abuse by gangs and shows the government’s continued determination to tackle this problem.”