A LEADING child protection charity has demanded tought laws as child abuse and  online grooming soared during lockdown.

A new police taskforce set up to tackle abuse and exploitation of youngsters was launched in September and within the first four weeks officers arrested 39 men ranging from between 15 and 76-year-old.

Of those arrested, 37 resulted in the recovery of material relating to online child sexual abuse and exploitation.

Police say dozens of children were identified as being at risk of abuse or were potentially at risk but have now been protected.

NSPCC Scotland has called for tougher legislation as it emerged that online grooming crimes have risen by 30% while children were at home during the pandemic compared to last year.

New data shows Police Scotland recorded 268 offences of communicating indecently with a child from April 1 to July 31 this year compared to 203 crimes in the same period last year, with the true scale of the problem likely to be much higher.

Between April and September this year a total of 1,036 child sex abuse crimes were reported which represents an increase of 18.4 percent on the previous year and 162.1 percent above the five year mean.

HeraldScotland: The Internet Watch Foundation took action over 124,605 images of child abuse

NSPCC Scotland said Boris Johnson should get tough on tech firms that fail to do enough to prevent offenders exploiting their sites and abusing children.

The NSPCC warned the pandemic had created a "perfect storm" for online offenders and believes these figures could mark the "start of a surge in online grooming crimes2.

With ongoing Coronavirus restrictions across the UK and children spending more time at home and online, the charity believes that the risk of online abuse will continue to spike, and many more offences may come to light when children report them at school.

One girl who contacted Childline during the pandemic said: “I am 12 and I don’t have social media but I wanted to get online and chat to people since my friends had done it and told me it would be fun. It started off fine with the occasional ‘hi’ and then men started sending d*** pics and saying really personal things.”

The new data comes as the UK Prime Minister makes vital decisions about online harms legislation that will create a duty of care on tech firms, with an announcement expected within weeks.

It’s understood the Online Harms White Paper consultation response has been signed off by the UK Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport and the Home Office and is sitting with Boris Johnson.

Police Scotland insists internet grooming and online child sex abuse (CSA) remains a priority for them.

Assistant Chief Constable Judi Heaton, lead for Major Crime, Public Protection and Local Crime, said: "Recorded crimes for online offending have risen substantially in line with our determined and recent proactive work to uncover this hidden criminality.

"Online offenders may think they are anonymous, and they may not comprehend the terrible, devastating and lifelong impact their actions have on children. But there is no excuse for their actions.

"Online images of child abuse and exploitation are not virtual, they show the very real abuse of a real child.

"We are determined to improve our response, invest in resources and latest technologies, to track down predators and abusers, and to make sure they face the full consequences of their actions.

"It requires a cross partnership effort not only through enforcement but also on deterrence by means of offender programmes.

"And we are also working with the National Police Chiefs Council on ways we can prevent this criminality on a larger scale."

Next week will see Police Scotland begin the next stage of their campaign against online child sexual abuse with the hashtag GetHelpOrGetCaught, which signposts offenders or potential offenders to Stop It Now!Scotland for help to stop or prevent offending.

A study released last month showed children are being sexually exploited in almost all parts of the county.

The abuse is happening in the islands, rural communities and urban areas, with cases identified in all but five of Scotland's local authorities.

The findings came from the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration and the charity Barnardo's Scotland and was the first national study into the problem.

Stop it Now! is a national campaign run by the Lucy Faithfull Foundation.

NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: “Families have long paid the price for big tech’s failure to protect children from abuse, but the Prime Minister has the chance to turn the tide and put responsibility on firms to clean up the mess they created.

“As the pandemic intensifies the threat children face online, bold and ambitious action is needed in the form of a world-leading Online Harms Bill.

“This means legislation that is tough on online crimes against children and regulation that holds tech companies and bosses financially and criminally responsible if they continue to turn a blind eye to entirely avoidable harm.”