Children as young as five are increasingly falling victim to sexual abuse online.
Live-streaming websites, such as Facebook Live and TikTok (a popular app among pre-teens), are enabling online ‘live grooming’, with children being asked to strip for strangers.
These videos are then often harvested and posted on websites for paedophiles.
‘Younger and younger’
Barnardo’s said children are also increasingly forcing their peers to watch pornography, or are touching one another inappropriately.
In written evidence to MPs, the charity called for stricter regulation of such sites.
Emily Cherry, Barnardo’s Assistant Director of Policy and Public Affairs, said: “We are seeing children come through the doors at a younger and younger age, below the age of criminal responsibility.
“We are seeing children as young as five and an increase in the number of children aged eight to 10 coming through our doors for this.”
Cherry said there needed to be “much more robust support in place” to stop children from receiving messages online coercing them into displaying sexual behaviour.
She also urged parents to be careful in allowing children access to devices with webcams such as smartphones and tablets, saying: “It’s like allowing a child to have a film crew in their bedroom.”
Chief Executive of the Internet Watch Foundation Susie Hargreaves said parents were often unaware of the online abuse going on under their own roofs.
She said: “Recently we published a report on the use of webcams. We looked at young people in their bedrooms, on their own, who were being filmed. Clearly, they were being coerced.”
“Often these are children in nice bedrooms. Parents are oblivious to what is happening there”, she added.
A Government spokesperson said: “Whether online or in person, the sexual exploitation of children is an abhorrent crime no child should suffer.”