Sex threat to children in Northern Ireland has not lessened, warns watchdog
The Children's Commissioner has said there is little evidence that children in Northern Ireland are better protected from sexual exploitation two years after an expert inquiry made recommendations.
The Marshall Inquiry, which reported in 2014, had warned that up to 145 children were at risk of child exploitation here.
But in a withering assessment of the progress made since then, Children's Commissioner Kioulla Yiasouma said there was "no concrete evidence" that professionals were working better together to address the problem.
And in a hard-hitting statement issued to coincide with European Day on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation, Ms Yiasouma said: "I see little evidence from Government reports that our children are more protected against sexual exploitation today than they were two years ago when the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation produced its findings."
She added: "We need to see clear evidence that Government action is leading to real change in how well we are protecting young people, supporting those who work with them, and disrupting and pursuing those who seek to abuse and exploit them."
Ms Yiasouma said that the progress to date on combating child sexual exploitation was "far from good enough".
"There are too many examples of actions being marked as complete, and Government saying it has addressed CSE (child sexual exploitation) by writing guidance, agreeing principles, planning reviews and having meetings.
"There is not enough evidence to show if this is making a difference, with better trained and supported staff on the ground and young people who feel cared for and safe.
"Worryingly, the Department of Health's latest progress report has no detail about a CSE strategy which was due out for consultation in June 2016. We have no information on whether a strategy is even being developed, according to this report."
Witnesses told the Marshall Inquiry that sexual exploitation had been occurring in bars and clubs "dominated by members of paramilitary groups" where there were lock-ins after hours.
The probe also found cases where young girls had been sexually exploited by soldiers at two Northern Ireland Army barracks.