Five sex crimes against Northern Ireland children reported daily
Five child sex offences are recorded every day in Northern Ireland, shocking figures reveal today.
The number of cases involving under-18s here rose to 1,875 last year.
Some of the victims were less than two years old.
The statistics show a sharp rise in online crime.
Reported incidents in the 12 months to last April increased by nearly 4% compared to the previous year, according to police statistics.
A children's charity voiced alarm at the figures.
Colin Reid from NSPCC Northern Ireland said: "This rise is extremely concerning and shows the challenges we face in tackling child abuse."
Across the UK the number of offences rose to a record 64,667 in 2016/17 - a 15% increase on the previous year.
The PSNI recorded 1,875 crimes including rape, sexual assault and grooming.
More than 600 of the offences involved children under the age of 10.
In 40 cases they were aged two and under, 48 were aged three.
In the last year, 178 child sex offences here had an online element - up from 139 the previous year.
The NSPCC said the true number of sex offences against children may be higher, as some may not have come forward out of fear or embarrassment, or may not even realise they have been abused.
It believes increases in offences recorded are driven by various factors, such as improved police recording methods and the rise in online groomers.
Experts also believe survivors are feeling more confident in disclosing abuse following a series of high-profile cases.
Yesterday, ex-football coach Barry Bennell was jailed for 31 years at Liverpool Crown Court for 50 counts of child sex abuse.
The NSPCC in Northern Ireland has called for more support for police to tackle the problem.
Mr Reid said abuse had a devastating impact.
"These abhorrent crimes can shatter a child's life, leaving them to feel humiliated, depressed or even suicidal," he said.
"That is why it is crucial every single child who has endured abuse and needs support must get timely, thorough help so they can learn to rebuild their lives.
"These figures suggest the police are making real progress in how they investigate sex offences against children.
"To help them tackle the issue we must ensure the police are equipped to work with other agencies and provide ongoing support and training to officers on the front line."
Detective Chief Superintendent Paula Hilman, who heads the PSNI's Public Protection Branch, said child protection was a priority. She urged all victims to come forward.
"Although the figures show a small increase in the number of crimes against children and young people, we believe this rise can be attributed to a number of reasons, including the fact people feel more confident in reporting their concerns to police and an improved, multi-agency approach to tackling this issue," she said.
"PSNI's Public Protection Branch have responsibility for child protection.
"We have teams aligned to the five Health and Social Care Trusts to ensure closer working relationships and better communications with our partner agencies in both the statutory and voluntary sector.
"This allows us to focus our resources, skills and expertise to deliver an enhanced service to safeguard children.
"We are committed to keeping our children safe through working with our partner agencies in relation to safeguarding, investigating offences and bringing people before the courts."