(SKY NEWS) – Schoolchildren are at extra risk from online paedophiles while they are stuck at home during the coronavirus crisis, investigators have warned.
In a new assessment the National Crime Agency (NCA) says there are at least 300,000 sex abusers posing a threat, some of whom are discussing how to exploit the school shutdown.
A separate survey has revealed that 10% of schoolchildren claim they can do as they want online while they are housebound.
The NCA is urging children, parents and carers to ensure they are safe online and has launched a package of educational aids to be used in home schooling.
NCA director Rob Jones said: “Though we are working around the virus like everyone else, we are continuing to pursue high-risk online offenders to ensure they are arrested, and children are safeguarded.
“Preventing offences occurring is always crucial and now more so than ever when there is masses of online traffic and a possible elevated threat to children.”
To illustrate the risks the agency has produced a series of 15-minute activity packages for parents and carers to complete with children.
They are available on the NCA’s social media platforms and the website thinkyouknow.co.uk.
A survey by insurers Zurich has revealed that one-in-10 seven to 17-year-olds claim they are unmonitored online during the lockdown as theirs parents struggle to cope with working from home and home schooling.
The company said it found that a fifth of those surveyed admitted chatting to strangers online and that children as young as seven spend nearly three hours a week broadcasting live videos of themselves.
Zurich said the survey, commissioned as part of its Safer Schools initiative, showed a rise of 17% in live streaming since the schools closed.
The survey also revealed that nearly three-quarters of children had a camera on their computers.
The survey was led by child protection specialists the Ineqe Safeguarding Group, whose CEO Jim Gamble said: “Whilst everyone is locked down in their homes, there may be a tendency to think that our children and young people are somehow safer, simply because we know exactly where they are. However, the truth is that they might not be.
“Children will be spending more time online than ever before. They may be tempted to join groups, share intimate images and participate in live-streaming activity as they attempt to build an online audience.
“We can’t ignore the fact that sex offenders are also sitting at home and most will access the internet.”
Simon Bailey, of the National Police Chiefs Council, said: “It is sickening to think that some criminals are looking to exploit the coronavirus crisis to cause harm online.
“Despite the issues that the pandemic will cause for law enforcement, child protection is still a priority.”