An average of six children were sexually abused every day in Northern Ireland last year, new figures reveal.
Figures from the PSNI obtained by NSPCC Northern Ireland reveal that in the last year, there were 2,082 recorded offences against children under 18 years of age – up 37% in the five years since 2014 and 2015.
Across the UK, there were 73,518 recorded offences including rape, online grooming and sexual assault against children in the UK in 2019/20, up 57% in the five years since 2014/15.
The charity said the figures on child sexual abuse show the need for the Government to deal with the “hidden harms” of the pandemic and ensure support for children who have experienced sexual abuse is embedded in recovery planning.
The NSPCC have called for a cross-departmental strategic framework to support a collaborative response to child sexual abuse in Northern Ireland as recommended by the Criminal Justice Inspection (CJI).
The NSPCC said the needs of children and young people should be at the centre of how authorities respond to child sexual abuse.
NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: “The crisis of child sexual abuse is not going away and behind these figures are thousands of children and young people who have reported crimes that can have a devastating impact on their lives.
“Urgent action is needed to prevent abuse and to ensure children are supported to recover when they bravely speak out.
The call comes as an NSPCC report found contacts from young people to Childline about sexual abuse in the family tripled during lockdown.
The report published on Monday, The Impact Of The Coronavirus Pandemic On Child Welfare: Sexual Abuse, shows there were an average of 23 contacts to Childline per week about child sexual abuse in the home, up threefold since March 23 when lockdown was enforced.
Some children told Childline that sexual abuse had become more frequent during lockdown, as they were spending more time with their abuser.
One 17-year-old girl said: “It started during lockdown, about seven weeks ago.
“Dad touched me and got me to touch him.
“Today he came into my room and removed his trousers and asked me to do something to him and I did it.
“I don’t want to live here anymore.
A third of counselling sessions were about abuse in the family that happened over a year ago, with many children talking about it for the first time.
Detective Chief Inspector David McBurney from PSNI’s Public Protection Branch said: “The sexual abuse of children is an issue which we take very seriously. Child protection is a priority for us and we work with a range of other agencies to help keep children and young people safe.
“It is important that children know that they can speak to someone who they trust if anyone causes them worry and I would advise parents and guardians to reassure their children that they do not have to deal with any concerns on their own.
“We will continue to work to bring offenders before the courts and anyone with any information in relation to the sexual abuse of children should contact police on 101 or 999 in an emergency.”
Anyone concerned about a child can contact the NSPCC Helpline for advice on 0808 800 5000.
Adult victims of non-recent sexual abuse can also get in touch for support.
Childline is available for young people on 0800 1111 or at childline.org.uk