The sexual health charity FPA is deeply concerned by a report from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), which says children as young as eight are being forced into performing slave-like sex acts live on webcam by sexual abusers.
In the past two years, the centre has been involved in 12 operations where blackmailing children into performing sexual acts has been a clear motive of the offender.
In that same period it has also discovered – using information from police forces in the UK and abroad – that 424 children have been a victim of online sexual blackmail, with 184 from the UK.
It also found a worrying trend in children self-harming or taking their own lives as a result.
Natika H Halil, FPA's Director of Communications, Health and Wellbeing, said:
“It is extremely concerning that so many young people have been targeted over the internet by sexual abusers, many of which we will not know about.
“We must ensure that children are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to understand what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour, what the potential risks are in talking to strangers online, and how to access help when they need it.
“These are issues which should be addressed in schools through sex and relationship education (SRE), to truly reflect the world young people are growing up in.
“For the Government to tell teachers to rely on guidance which was written in 2000 when the digital world was vastly different, as it did in the new National Curriculum, is a failure to children.
“It is also vital that parents and carers understand the potential dangers and speak openly with their children about staying safe online.”
Abuse can be reported to Ceop online or via the NSPCC helpline on 0800 328 0904.