SOARING numbers of the Capital’s children – including girls as young as 12 – are producing and sharing indecent images of themselves online, safety campaigners have warned.
New figures suggest at least two instances of “sexting” are being reported in the Capital every week, with youngsters left “depressed and suicidal” when “parasite” websites circulate the content they produce.
Children’s welfare leaders said the trend highlighted the need for good quality sex education, which they said should begin in primary school.
Matt Forde, head of NSPCC Scotland, said: “We are starting to see the regular and normalised consumption of hardcore pornography among young people and this has contributed to the sharing of explicit self-generated sexual imagery.
“Worryingly, we have unearthed a lot of evidence that girls as young as 12 are being pressured into sending explicit photographs to boyfriends.”
The warnings came as the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre (CEOP) released its latest annual threat assessment, which revealed reports of 70,000 still and moving indecent images of children were created in the UK last year – a two-fold increase on 2011.
CEOP bosses said around a fifth of those were self- generated, indicating dozens of sexts were shared over webmail, social networking sites and file-hosting services by young people in Edinburgh last year.
“Many young people believe sexting is harmless fun but it can be risky,” said Mr Forde.
“Once they have given someone a sexually explicit picture of themselves they have no control over it.
“Good quality sex education is absolutely critical. It needs to be age-appropriate, but if we are to be able to help young people navigate their way through these pressures, it also needs to start in primary school.”
He added: “We need to teach young people about respecting themselves and respecting each other, but parents also have to take responsibility for talking to their children about healthy relationships and how to keep themselves safe.”
CEOP bosses said the figures should serve as a wake-up call to the whole of society.
Chief executive Peter Davies said: “While the assessment may not make comfortable reading, that isn’t its purpose; it’s an objective assessment of the issues and, undoubtedly, a call to action.”
Education bosses in the Capital said the latest figures were “very worrying”.
Councillor Paul Godzik, children and families leader, said: “We have to ensure that we are doing everything possible to protect children and keep them safe. A concerted effort is taking place across Edinburgh schools to educate our pupils about acceptable online behaviour, and keeping themselves safe. All schools have the ‘Keeping Myself eSafe’ materials and staff receive mandatory child protection training, which includes internet safety.
“We also carry out partnership working with the UK Safer Internet Centre, and our Community Police Officers have a key role in talking to young people about ‘cyber bullying’ and safe use of the internet.”
Parents must become aware of risks facing youngsters
ALISON Todd, director of children and family services at Children 1st, warned that young people who send sexts risked becoming the targets of school bullies and online predators.
She called on parents to be more alert and said there were a number of steps they could take to ensure their children’s safety.
She said: “It’s crucial that parents and carers educate themselves about mobile technology and online communities, be aware of the risks facing children and young people, and speak to them about their online activity and support them to use the internet safely.
“Concerned parents or carers can get advice on 08000 28 22 33 or firstname.lastname@example.org.”