Child Welfare

Part of Members' Statements – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:15 pm on 6 December 2021.

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Photo of Jonathan Buckley Jonathan Buckley DUP 12:15, 6 December 2021

I rise to continue with Mr McCrossan's points. While COVID demonstrated the very best of society, equally, what I and other Members have seen in the media in the past few weeks has demonstrated the sheer evil that exists in many parts of society today. First, there is the harrowing case of child abuse that Mr McCrossan mentioned: Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, a six-year-old who was mentally abused and then physically abused. It is absolutely harrowing for anyone to listen to.

As politicians and, indeed, as a society, we should, first and foremost, protect our children, but the cases that we have seen on the news sadly show that there is severe mistrust of the parental relationship with a child in society. I listened to the story of young Tony Hudgell, who was attacked when he was a baby. His fingers and toes were broken and the ligaments in his legs were torn. He is now wheelchair-bound because of the abuse he sustained in his household.

That leads me to the harrowing information that I heard at the Policing Board last Thursday. The National Crime Agency (NCA) director general was there and, for the first time, he revealed the numbers involved in sexual abuse in Northern Ireland. That was harrowing. The fact that very few media outlets reported it caused me a great deal of concern. He stated that there may be up to 23,000 individuals who are deemed as a sexual risk to children living in Northern Ireland. Members, I am sure that we can all agree that that figure is deeply disturbing.

The Chief Constable noted that the figure is equivalent to a small town of people. It is absolutely disgusting; it is harrowing, but yet there has been no condemnation or push for action from many elements of our society. The director general of the NCA said that in most cases, children are more at harm in their own homes and beds than they are on the street. How harrowing. Yet there is widespread silence on this issue. I found it particularly distressing when the director general of the NCA said that children as young as toddlers were being sexually abused in their homes by adults up to the age of 70-plus. Members, we have to do more. Collectively, we must attack this atrocity and protect our young people by placing them at the heart of any legislative programme going forward. We owe it to them. Too many are suffering in silence, and we must be their voice.