Children as young as 13 are embarking on self defence classes in light of the perceived increase in violence on the streets of Northern Ireland.
One teenager signed up for private one-to-one training after being robbed and assaulted twice within one hour on a Saturday afternoon in Belfast.
And 15 pupils at a Belfast secondary school are currently taking part in a personal safety programme which includes risk assessment and self defence skills — at a cost of thousands of pounds.
Jim McCausland is director of training at Defence Sense, which is providing the training for Lagan College pupils and also trains staff in statutory bodies and corporate organisations throughout the UK.
Mr McCausland said: “We have done private training with about 20 young people in the last 18 months and some came to us after being assaulted on a Saturday afternoon when they were just out shopping.”
“We know of young people who have been robbed, their mobile phones taken off them and others who have just had a random punch in the face. Others have been victims of violent bullying.
“The streets are not getting any safer out there. Personal safety and self defence training are essential life skills.
“If young people are confronted by someone they need to know how to escape or a way to protect themselves.
“We teach our children to swim because we don’t want them to drown. We should also teach them how to cope with being assaulted.”
Helen McHugh, principal of Lagan College, said that the programme is one of a range of activities offered to post-16 students.
“The aim of these is to help prepare our young people for life after Lagan,” she said.
“The Personal Safety Programme was introduced this year in response to a demand from students and has proved particularly popular with girls.”
Stephen Van Den Bos, one of the Year 13 pupils taking the course, said: “If anyone threatens you, you will know what to do now. It makes us feel safer.”