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Nearly 34,000 children groomed in wait for Online Safety Bill – NSPCC

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UK police have recorded almost 34,000 online grooming crimes against children while waiting for the implementation of the Online Safety Bill, the NSPCC has said.

The charity urged tech companies to accept the new legislation, rather than fight it, in an effort to protect children online. It added that 73 per cent of crimes were linked to Snapchat or Meta, and one in four online grooming crimes in the last five years were against primary school children.

The much-delayed Online Safety Bill has been presented by the government as a ground-breaking law that will target online racism, sexual abuse, bullying, fraud and other harmful material often found on the internet.

In its original form, the bill gave regulators wide-ranging powers to sanction digital and social media companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok. However, it has been significantly watered down in revisions over the past year.

MPs and Lords are expected to make the final decisions on the implementation of the Bill next month.

The NSPCC sent Freedom of Information requests and asked for data on all recorded offences of sexual communication with a child from UK police forces since the offence was introduced in 2017.

The data found that, among the 34,000 grooming crimes against children, 6,350 offences were recorded last year alone. representing an 82 per cent increase since the offence came into force.

More than 5,500 offences were against primary school children and, where the gender was known, 83 per cent of offences were against girls.

The number of offences and children affected by online sexual abuse is likely to be a lot higher than that known to the police, the NSPCC said, urging politicians from all parties to help pass the Bill.

Sir Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said: “Today’s research highlights the sheer scale of child abuse happening on social media and the human cost of fundamentally unsafe products.

“The number of offences must serve as a reminder of why the Online Safety Bill is so important and why the ground-breaking protections it will give children are desperately needed.

“We’re pleased the government has listened and strengthened the legislation so companies must tackle how their sites contribute to child sexual abuse in a tough but proportionate way, including in private messaging.

“It’s now up to tech firms, including those highlighted by these stark figures today, to make sure their current sites and future services do not put children at unacceptable risk of abuse.”

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