Rise in paramilitary attacks condemned
PARAMILITARY-style shootings have doubled in the last 12 months, with young people under the age of 18 being targeted by both loyalist and republican organisations.
Figures released to coincide with United Nations' Universal Children's Day, show there were 28 paramilitary style shootings in the last 12 months - 25 of those carried out by republican groups and three by loyalist paramilitary organisations.
There was also an increase in the number of paramilitary-style assaults, up from 58 last year to 66 over the same period this year.
Loyalist organisations were behind 56 of these attacks with the remaining 10 attributed to republican gangs according to the most recent PSNI statistics.
Police and senior church leaders have united in condemnation of the increase in vigilante style attacks, saying that the six per cent of recorded attacks targetting young people under the age of 18 amounted to "child abuse".
Detective Superintendent Bobby Singleton said it was a situation "completely unacceptable in any society".
"This is child abuse and should not be tolerated by any rational person", he said.
"The people behind these attacks should be seen for what they are, hypocritical thugs trying to exert coercive control over communities by creating a climate of fear."
The PSNI detective added that police have made a number of arrests in recent weeks in connection with various paramilitary-style assaults.
Echoing the sentiment of the PSNI, church leaders also issued a statement raising concerns about the impact of attacks on young people.
Signed by the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh Richard Clarke, Methodist Church President Dr Laurence Graham, Catholic Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, President of the Irish Council of Churches Bishop John McDowell and Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland Dr Noble McNeely, they said:
"At the heart of the vision for the Peace Process was the hope that children and young people might be protected from the violence that blighted the lives of previous generations. Making our communities safe and welcoming places is the responsibility of all members of society."
The Community Relations Council also said the organisation was committed to supporting children and young people to thrive in a fair, safe and shared world.
"I'm proud of the children and young people here; they are an asset to our shared community and this region," chairman Peter Osborne said.
"On Universal Children's Day we should respect our children and support their development. We should reject abuse, including the child abuse visited on children by vigilantes in paramilitary style attacks."