Children as young as five have unsupervised internet access

ISPCC report shows grooming is a main concern for parents

Children in Ireland as young as five-years-old have unlimited and unsupervised access to the internet, a children's charity has reported.

The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s (ISPCC) annual review showed young people often looked at violent, pornographic and age inappropriate material online.

Grooming was found to be a particular concern as the review by Ireland’s national child protection charity highlighted one case of a parent calling the organisation for help after finding out their child was being groomed by an online paedophile ring.

The charity’s report found that “sextortion” of children, which is a threat of public humiliation by releasing sexual images on social media, was being used as a means of intimidation.


“In some cases, young people are sometimes blackmailed for money or asked to send further intimate pictures or coerced into sexual acts in desperate attempts to stop a perpetrator from sending their personal images to others ,” the review stated.

“Children and young people have always sought out validation and recognition of their identities but what is different today is how young people seek that validation and the level of exposure online.”

The ISPCC carried out the cyber review in July this year from issues the charity encountered from children, young people and families in the previous 18 months.

Grainia Long, chief executive of the ISPCC, said cyber safety was the child protection issue "of our time".

“We are only beginning to understand the scale and nature of harm and criminal behaviour towards children online,” she said.

“Children are at risk online - from bullying, accessing inappropriate material and in the most egregious cases, from abuse.”

The review also highlighted a lack of empathy from young people when comments are posted online compared to face-to-face exchanges.

“In some cases, children think that the purpose of social media is to taunt and insult others and that this is the normal behaviour online as this is what they may be viewing on a regular basis,” it stated.

Staff from the ISPCC reported young people showed high levels of stress and anxiety caused by damage to their reputation after sexting.

Ms Long said there was an urgent need for law reform in the area to address the gaps in cyber crime legislation.

“We must also modernise our laws to reflect the online reality,” she said.

“We appreciate the positive impact that technology has on the lives of young people but our work has informed us that our education system and society are failing to prepare children to identify and understand online risks.”

The charity is holding a private conference about online safety in Dublin Castle on Tuesday.

Rachel Flaherty

Rachel Flaherty

Rachel Flaherty is an Irish Times journalist