Coronavirus: 300,000 'pose sexual threat to children' during COVID-19 lockdown, warns crime agency

Little dependent gamer kid playing on laptop indoors
The National Crime Agency (NCA) says there are at least 300,000 people in the UK posing a sexual threat to children during the coronavirus outbreak. (Getty Images)

UK law enforcement agencies are urging parents and carers to ensure they keep children safe online during the coronavirus lockdown.

A new report from the National Crime Agency (NCA) says there are at least 300,000 people in the UK posing a sexual threat to children, either through physical ‘contact’ abuse or online.

The NCA released the figure – based on intelligence pre-dating the coronavirus outbreak from a variety of sources - as the agency and UK police warn of a spike in online child sex offences during the COVID-19 crisis.

With most schools closed and children spending more time online, the NCA and National Police Chiefs’ Council are urging children, parents and carers to ensure they know how to stay safe on the web.

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The NCA has released activities designed to raise awareness of online safety as children are schooled from home. (Getty Images)

Investigators say they were able to find child sex abuse content on the open web in just three clicks.

The agency has launched a new #OnlineSafetyAtHome campaign through its education team at its Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) division.

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A host of informative, educational products aimed at children of all ages, parents, carers and teachers will be issued through the agency’s Thinkuknow website and social media channels.

The 15-minute activities, released fortnightly, can be easily incorporated into home schooling as parents continue to teach their children indoors.

Activities will be available for families of children across all age groups (4-5,5 -7, 8-10, 11-14 and 14+) and delivered to families through the new delivery methods being used by schools, as well as sectors including social care, law enforcement, health and charity.

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The NCA and UK policing arrest more than 500 child sex offenders, in turn safeguarding around 700 children, each month.

But the agency claims that, based on evidence gained from online chat investigations, offenders are discussing opportunities to abuse children during the Covid 19 crisis.

NCA director of threat leadership Rob Jones said: “Child sexual abuse remains a priority threat for the agency at this difficult time.

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“Though we are working around the virus like everyone else, we are continuing to pursue high-risk online offenders to ensure they are arrested and children are safeguarded.

CUCKFIELD, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 22: ((EDITORS NOTE: Picture Posed By Models) In this photo illustration, a school- age child of the photographer use an iPad to check his timetable for schoolwork to be undertaken at home whilst schools are closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic on March 22, 2020 in Cuckfield, England. As from Monday 23rd March 2020, UK Schoolchildren will work from home due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Schools will open for children of Key workers.  (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)
Investigators say offenders are discussing opportunities to abuse children during the COVID-19 crisis. (Getty Images)

“The internet has undeniable benefits to society. But it’s also enabled a section of society to commit increasingly horrific crimes against children through grooming, live-streaming and distribution of indecent images.

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“Preventing offences occurring is always crucial and now more so than ever when there is masses of online traffic and a possible elevated threat to children. We are redoubling our efforts to promote our online safety messages to children, parents, carers and teachers and are working with partners to keep children safe.”

He continued: “Equally as important as police action is making sure children have all the information and tools they need to keep themselves safe online. The Thinkuknow website is a great place for parents to go for advice and a good way to pass the time whilst children are at home.”

Anyone concerned that a crime has been committed against a child is urged to contact local police.

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