But I am now listening to Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore (2008), a wonderful book about Josef Stalin before the Revolution. During the early 1900s Stalin headed the Bolshevik Party in Georgia, organizing demonstrations, strikes, terrorist acts, and bank robberies. And according to Montefiore, Stalin organized the boys of both Tbilisi and Batumi into gangs that spied for him; among other things he used the boys to keep watch on the adult Bolsheviks to make sure they were not secretly meeting with the police or skimming money from their criminal activities.
I guess cities used to be full of boys with not much to do and a lot of energy to burn off, who could be hired for spying and the like for a few cents of ice cream money. Too young to be sentenced to serious prison time, they were not likely to get any punishment from the police beyond a smack on the side of the head.
Come to think of it, some neighborhoods still are full of such boys who are still used that way by drug dealers, although I think these days they are a little older than the Philadelphia toughs in the picture at the top.