New figures from Childline show Executive must implement internet safety strategy now - Overend

Ulster Unionist MLA Sandra Overend has responded to new worrying figures from Childline by calling on the Executive to move more swiftly on drafting and implementing a cross departmental Internet Safety Strategy.   

Mrs Overend said:

“The internet has brought many advantages to modern life, but new figures released from Childline provide a worrying picture of the potential harm many children and young people face as they engage with the online world using websites, apps and webcams.

“We have known for a long time that online sexual abuse is a hidden issue. With more children and young people using laptops, tablets and smartphones to access the internet, much of the online sexual abuse taking place goes unseen and unreported. This rise in online grooming is highlighted by Childline which provided 164 counselling sessions with children from Northern Ireland concerned about online sexual abuse last year. However, the NSPCC, which runs the Childline service, say the figure could be higher because a quarter of young people did not disclose where they are from. On the whole last year, children worried about online sexual abuse is up 24%, with most aged 12-15 and two-thirds being girls.

“I welcome the ‘Listen to Your Selfie’ campaign and hope that it encourages children and young people to be more aware of the risks of engaging in online activity. It can be hard for children to notice if they are being manipulated into doing things they are uncomfortable with. There is definitely greater need for educating children and young people as they navigate the online world – especially in how they recognise the signs of online abuse and unhealthy relationships.

“It’s crucial that children and young people feel that they can speak up when they feel they are being exploited. As a mother I know that parents are often playing catch-up when it comes to new technology. However, it’s so important that we take an interest in the apps and the social networks that our children are using, and make them aware of what inappropriate behaviour and exploitive relationships might look like online.        

“Promoting better internet safety requires a comprehensive joined up approach, and I commend NSPCC, Barnardos, PSNI, and the Safeguarding Board in Northern Ireland (SBNI) for working closely to tackle this pressing issue. For some time now I have campaigned for a cross departmental Internet Safety Strategy, and last week I asked the Minister of Health for an update on the progress of this important Strategy. I am still waiting for an answer and it is not acceptable for the Executive to continue to twiddle its thumbs while figures on online sexual abuse continue to rise."

Children and young people can contact Childline for free, confidential support and advice, 24 hours a day on 0800 1111 or at

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