Sexual exploitation fearsover mobile phone kids

Date: Friday 15th February 2019

SERIOUS concerns have been raised about children having mobile phones at too young an age.

It follows more than 660 reports of child sexual exploitation in Cumbria over a six-month period last year, often involving sexting or sharing explicit images.

Yet there is no age restriction for phones, a county council committee was told on Tuesday.

Liz McKie, the council’s manager for children, families and young people, said that, unlike other areas, child sexual exploitation in Cumbria rarely involved grooming gangs. Instead, it often took place over the phone between children of a similar age.

Mrs McKie said: “What we know about child sexual exploitation in Cumbria is that it is more about harmful sexual behaviour involving peer-on-peer.

“Children are being exploited because of a power imbalance, collusion or control in their relationships with other children within a similar age.

“That doesn’t mean that because they are similar age this is OK. They are still being children being sexually exploited.”

Mrs McKie said more support and services were needed to guard against children taking part in “harmful sexual behaviour”.

County council chairman Liz Mallinson (Con, Stanwix Urban), who is also a school governor, said explicit photographs could quickly end up going around the world. Yet parents were often the last to know because they did not always understand the technology.

Mrs Mallinson said: “Children are being groomed online, quite often by slightly older children, and I think this is the biggest problem our children face today.”

Dan Barton, Cumbria’s assistant director for children and young people, said: “The only thing I think we can do is better work with parents around not buying a smartphone for their child until a certain age. Parents will buy a phone because Johnny down the road has one and by then you have lost the argument. We need to reach them at the age when they do not have a mobile phone.”

Mr Barton likened the Internet to the Lord of the Flies and said: “It allows children to inhabit a virtual world where there are no adults.”

Anne Burns (Lab, Hindpool) said parents needed more help to “police” the issue.

“Parents are purchasing these devices because if their child goes to school and they haven’t got one, they are ridiculed. “There has to be a different way of doing it, such as trying to educate them about what their children are doing with these devices,” said Mrs Burns, the cabinet member for children and young people.

The issues were discussed by the council’s scrutiny advisory board for children and young people meeting at Kendal.