134 children arrested for alleged sex offences
More than 100 children aged between 12 and 15 have been arrested for alleged sex offences in Northern Ireland in the past five years, it has been revealed.
Det Ch Supt George Clarke said: "The decision to arrest anybody, and in particular a young person, is not a decision that is taken lightly."
He told BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show the figures are not escalating.
In 2009/10 there were 37 arrests, in 2011/12, 26, and in 2013/14 there were 27.
Mr Clarke said police had to be aware that the alleged offender may also be a victim of a sex offence.
Child protection groups are concerned that children are at risk of being criminalised rather than receiving advice and guidance.
Jim Gamble, child protection expert from Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) told the Nolan show:
"We live in a society that since about 2006/7 has been exposed to, and young people influenced through accessing social media and other online platforms to hardcore adult pornography, to commercialisation that is highly sexualised."
He said the 2003 Sex Offenders Act needs to be adapted to recognise the fact that some young people will do foolish things with no criminal intent.
"If a young person does something foolish, if they take a picture of themselves which they share with a boyfriend, I do not believe that should be a criminal offence, which it is at present," he said.
"Where there is no malicious or criminal intent, I think we need to reflect on a better way of dealing with (for instance) selfies that are taken."
Det Ch Supt Clarke said that arrests were only made after consideration of the circumstances.
"It's not something we do unless we have a complaint, unless we have appropriate evidence that supports arrests and provided as well that we have assessed that it is an appropriate step," he said.
"In layman's terms, we are not going to use a sledgehammer to crack a nut."