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Children groomed at home through phones, charity warns

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A charity has raised alarm over children as young as three being groomed for “disturbing acts” via phones and tablets at home.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) revealed that in 2023, they uncovered 2,401 “self-generated” images and videos of child abuse, focusing on children aged between three and six.

The IWF’s annual report, as covered by The Times, underscores how abuse is taking place in domestic settings, including bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchens, and dining rooms.

Backgrounds featuring toys, games, books, and bedding adorned with cartoon characters were noted in imagery depicting severe forms of sexual abuse, the newspaper reported.

This disclosure follows recent Ofcom data revealing that a significant portion of five to seven-year-olds own smartphones, with nearly a third using these devices without supervision.

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Urging for immediate action, Susie Hargreaves, CEO of the IWF, said, “The opportunistic criminals who seek to manipulate your children into disturbing acts of sexual abuse are not a distant threat. They are attempting to communicate with them now on phones and devices that can be found in any family home.”

Emphasising the necessity for collective action, Hargreaves stressed the importance of age-appropriate conversations and the implementation of the Online Safety Act before its enactment next year.

Echoing these concerns, security minister Tom Tugendhat remarked, “This deeply disturbing report indicates that predators are targeting younger and younger victims. My message to parents is to talk to your children about their social media usage because the platforms you assume are safe may pose risks.”

He urged technology companies to enhance safeguards to prevent abuse and to collaborate with authorities to ensure children’s safety.

The IWF, a non-profit organisation dedicated to combating child sexual abuse online, reported a record amount of material discovered last year, with 275,652 web pages containing such imagery.

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