Over 2,000 sex offences against Northern Ireland children in last year, says charity
More than 2,000 sexual offences against children aged under 18 were recorded in Northern Ireland during 2018-19, a children's charity has warned.
And almost a quarter of the 2,036 offences - 472 - involved children aged between four and eight years old, according to the NSPCC.
The figures were obtained by the charity from the PSNI.
A total of 7,618 offences involving the same age group were reported to police forces in Northern Ireland, England and Wales in the past year.
The charity contacted 44 UK forces and 30 responded with details of reported offences between April 2018 and March 2019.
In the same period in 2017-18, 8,170 sexual offences against young children were reported to 31 forces. The year before that there were 6,613 reported to the same number of forces, the charity said.
The charity released the figures as it today relaunched its Talk PANTS campaign, which aims to help parents with children aged eight and under to have vital conversations about staying safe from sexual abuse.
The Talk PANTS project suggests ways of discussing the subject through songs and children's characters without using the words "sex" or "abuse".
Margaret Gallagher, the NSPCC's Interim Head of Safeguarding in Communities, who delivers the PANTS campaign to groups across Northern Ireland, said the number of recorded sexual offences against young children is "very concerning".
"That is why Talk PANTS is such an important tool for parents as it enables them to have vital conversations with their child in an age appropriate way," she said.
Hundreds of young children contacted Childline about sexual abuse in the last year, the charity also revealed. The service provided 541 counselling sessions to children under the age of 11 who cited this as their main concern.
Helen Westerman, the charity's head of safeguarding, said: "When children experience sexual abuse at such an early age it can have deeply traumatic consequences and a lasting impact on their lives. One of the major issues is children may not even know what is happening to them is wrong and as a result it can take many years to come to the surface.
"It is vitally important that young people and concerned adults feel confident in coming forward to report sexual abuse and that parents are also comfortable talking to their children about these sensitive issues to help keep them safe."
Further information about the campaign can be found at www.nspcc.org.uk/pants