The number of online child grooming offences in Northern Ireland has more than doubled in four years, a children's charity has revealed.
The NSPCC is calling for regulator OFCOM to be given the power to require firms to use technology to detect grooming and the sharing of child abuse images.
Data from across the UK showed that 82% of cases last year - when the gender was known -were against girls, while Meta-owned platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp were used in 38% of all cases where the platform was known.
Snapchat was used in 33% of cases where a platform was recorded.
The figures have been published on the day the Government announced plans to table an amendment to the Online Safety Bill, which would give Ofcom more power as the regulator to demand platforms do more to combat the spread of abuse material – including developing new technologies to find and tackle it.
The NSPCC has voiced its support for those measures, but said it believes more can still be done to better protect children online.
The charity said that the record levels of online child sexual abuse seen during the pandemic have not subsided and could mean a long-term increase in risk to children.
It is calling for the Online Safety Bill to be further strengthened to compel tech firms to work together across platforms to combat “grooming pathways”, as well as do more to stop offenders from organising on social networks to organise and direct each other to abuse elsewhere – a process known as “breadcrumbing”.
NSPCC Northern Ireland’s Policy and Public Affairs Manager has called on the Government to take immediate action to address the issue.
Natalie Whelehan said: “We are consistently seeing unprecedented increases in the level and scale of threat to our children’s safety online.
"We need our Government to urgently prioritise this issue and implement and fund the 2015 commissioned Online Safety Strategy and Action Plan and do everything in its power to strengthen the Online Safety Bill progressing in Westminster to give children the protections they need to prevent abuse from happening in the first place."
The charity has set out a five-point action plan for the Online Safety Bill to systemically prevent avoidable child sexual abuse.
Give the regulator powers to proactively tackle abuse in private messaging
Make platforms work together to tackle grooming pathways
Stop offenders from using social networks to organise abuse - breadcrumbing
Adopt a Violence Against Women and Girls Code of Practice
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