Police probe 700 child rape cases in Northern Ireland in three years
Police have investigated more than 700 child rapes in Northern Ireland in the last three years.
They were among nearly 4,200 sex offences where the victim was aged under 16 - four a day on average.
The number of sexual attacks has soared by 35% in that period.
Children were victims of sickening crimes such as prostitution, grooming, incest and voyeurism.
Campaigners warned the majority of sex attacks in Northern Ireland are now carried out on young people.
Fermanagh-South Tyrone MLA Lord Morrow said he was "aghast", describing the details as "sickening and disturbing".
Child sex attack figures were released after a Freedom of Information request by the Belfast Telegraph.
The PSNI confirmed 4,181 sex offences were recorded between April 2013 and March this year where the victim was aged 15 and under.
- 738 cases of rape;
- 1,843 sex assaults;
- And 1,600 other sex offences.
The number of attacks on children has risen sharply.
In 2013/14 a total of 1,200 sex crimes against under-16s were reported.
But by 2015/16 this had jumped to 1,620 - a rise of 35%.
The range of offences includes incest, abuse of children through prostitution and pornography, exposure, voyeurism and sexual activity involving a child under 13.
Lord Morrow said:"To learn such a high number of children - one of the most vulnerable groups in any society - have been subjected to such appalling treatment at the hands of unscrupulous persons is nothing short of vile."
"Our children are our greatest asset yet some would seek to violate the innocence of youth for their own perverse, self-indulgent deviance."
The DUP peer has called for tougher action against child sex offenders.
"We cannot be complacent when it comes to child protection and safety, and indeed the after-care the victims of these crimes require," he added.
"I cannot begin to imagine the horror these children have endured.
"Courts must take a close look at these figures and ensure sentencing is commensurate with the offence.
"Deterrent does not appear to be in the equation going by these figures."
Colin Reid, who is head of policy at the NSPCC in Northern Ireland, said young people are more likely than any other age group to be a victim of a sex attack.
"The majority of sexual offences are actually against children and young people in Northern Ireland," he said.
"These stats remind us of the need to ensure there is no complacency in steps that are needed to protect children.
"This includes giving children, through the school curriculum, the skills to recognise potential harm.
"They also need to know the routes through Childline and our adult helpline to get help and avail of our specialist post-abuse treatment services."
One of Northern Ireland's biggest sex abuse scandals emerged in 2010.
It was revealed that four brothers had abused children in Donagh, Co Fermanagh, for more than 30 years. John Michael McDermott was later jailed for nine years.
Two of his brothers - mentally unfit to stand trial - were given lifetime sexual offences prevention orders.
A fourth brother took his own life during his trial.
A judge at the time said the brothers had been responsible for a "tidal wave of abuse" in the tiny village.
Detective Chief Superintendent George Clarke, head of the PSNI's Public Protection Branch, said: "The sexual abuse of children is an abhorrent crime and one which we take very seriously. The PSNI is committed to safeguarding children and young people - we owe it to them to do everything we can to protect them, which is what my officers are doing on a daily basis.
"While these statistics show an increase in sexual crime, other factors such as the reporting of historic abuse cases and an increase in confidence in the criminal justice system may be contributing to the rise.
"Child protection falls under the remit of the PSNI's Public Protection Branch which was established in April 2015. As part of this, our Public Protection Units are aligned to each of the health and social care trusts to ensure closer working relationships and better communications with our external stakeholders.
"We work daily with The Rowan Centre, NSPCC, Barnardos, Nexus and other community and statutory agencies to help keep people safe. This partnership approach has allowed the PSNI to focus its resources, skills and expertise to deliver an enhanced service in the area of public protection, including the safeguarding of children.
"We will continue to deliver and enhance our safeguarding measures, investigate offences and bring those responsible before the courts. I would encourage anyone with any concerns or information in relation to the sexual abuse of children to contact police on 101 or 999 in an emergency."