Police will start teaching online safety to kindergarten children after it has emerged kids as young as four have posted explicit images of themselves and been groomed by sex predators on the web.
Angus Taylor, the federal Minister for Law Enforcement and Cyber Security, will announce on Tuesday that cyber safety training will for the first time target kindergarten to grade two children.
“Our law enforcement agencies are seeing shocking incidents of children as young as four producing sexually explicit material, uploading it to social media, and subsequently engaging with online child sex offenders,” Mr Taylor said in a statement.
“As a parent, these reports are deeply concerning.”
The new approach means the Australian Federal Police will in coming weeks train state and territory police officers to deliver safety lessons at kindergartens and the first two grades of primary school.
These classes already exist for grades three upwards under the AFP-led ThinkUKnow program.
It trains children, parents and teachers in avoiding online grooming by sex offenders, as well as bullying, “sexting” and identity theft.
Police have seen incidents involving younger victims, Mr Taylor said.
The ThinkUKnow program also uses AFP-trained industry volunteers who provide training to parents, carers and teachers. Tech companies Microsoft and Datacom, as well as the Commonwealth Bank, are partners.
A spokeswoman for the AFP said its assessment centre had seen “an increase in referrals involving younger children” and that “some of these matters have involved unsupervised young children playing with devices and accidently loading images onto social media”.
“Other instances are more sinister and are as a result of being groomed on platforms popular with young children, where they are encouraged to take naked or sexualised images of themselves and upload them.”
Mr Taylor said this year’s presentations would focus on trends towards self-produced child exploitation material, grooming of children through online apps and games, and the need for adult supervision.
“We need to closely supervise our children online. We also need to ensure they are taught how to identify suspicious online behaviour and how to block and report offensive apps and sites,” he said.
According to the Britain-based Internet Watch Foundation, reports of child sexual abuse imagery worldwide rose 417 per cent between 2013 and 2015.
In a speech last year to the World Congress on Family Law and Children’s Rights, the AFP’s manager of victim-based crime, Commander Lesa Gale, said the AFP had seen “a tsunami of reports of child exploitation”.
“In 2016 we received more than 8000 reports of child exploitation,” she said. “In the first five months of this year, the AFP has received more than 4500 reports of child exploitation – a figure greater than the number of reports received in the 2013 and 2014 calendar years.”
She said the AFP along with other organisations internationally had seen a trend towards “victims … getting younger and younger”.