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Inquiry began after police probe set alarms ringing

By Deborah McAleese

The inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Northern Ireland was commissioned last year after it emerged police had identified 22 potential child abuse victims.

According to police, the majority of the victims were harmed when they went missing from care homes, at times after being plied with drugs or alcohol. Many did not realise they were being exploited.

Known as Operation Owl, the police probe has led to scores of arrests. Investigations are ongoing.

For the past year, the independent inquiry - led by Professor Kathleen Marshall, who chaired an investigation into abuse in children's homes in Edinburgh - examined the nature of child sexual exploitation and to what extent it has been taking place in Northern Ireland. It also probed how effective safeguarding arrangements are across the health and judicial systems.

Child sexual exploitation can range from the planned or systematic exploitation of young people to worrying relationships between young people under 16 and older adults.

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