A tense political climate is resulting in a spike in the number of British children being exposed to race and faith-based bullying.
This troubling trend has been highlighted in a new report from children's charity, NSPCC, which has observed a recent increase in the number of youngsters contacting its support service, Childline, to ask for help after being subjected to victimisation because of their religion or ethnic background.
New data from the charity has indicated that more than 2,500 counselling sessions offered by Childline in the last three years pertained to this kind of bullying, with black, Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Sikh children as young as nine among those who have contacted the service over this issue.
It was noted that recent high-profile terrorist attacks taking place on UK soil - including those in Manchester and London - have been accompanied by an increase in the number of these counselling sessions, with Muslim children enduring name-calling, terrorist jibes, threats of violence or victimisation while wearing a hijab or headscarf due to the inflamed political atmosphere that often follows in the wake of such attacks.
As a consequence of this abuse, many of the children speaking to Childline admitted to having self-harmed, with many saying they wished they could change who they were, while others have chosen to skip school to escape their troubles. The NSPCC warned that these problems can isolate a child, impact their emotional health and leave them feeling vulnerable and withdrawn over time.
NSPCC chief executive, Peter Wanless, said: "We can't allow prejudice to make children feel ashamed of who they are; instead, we should celebrate diversity and stand together. It takes huge courage for a child to speak up about this issue, and they must be encouraged to speak up if they are being targeted."
As such, the charity is calling on responsible adults - including teachers, parents, social workers and childcare providers - to make sure they keep their eyes open to potential warning signs that could indicate a child is being bullied.
These may include unexplained physical injuries or personal belongings being damaged or going missing, while many bullying victims also lose confidence, have problems with eating or sleeping, or develop a reluctance to go to school. The NSPCC also noted that children who start bullying others often do so because they have previously been targeted themselves, meaning this should also be seen as a sign that the child may need help.
Mr Wanless explained: "Some children don't understand how painful their words can be, so adults must not turn a blind eye if they see young people turning on one another. We must defend those who are being targeted, and explain to those who are bullying others why what they're doing is harmful and wrong."
In taking these steps, adults can put themselves in a position where they can prevent the cycle of victimisation from escalating further, and provide crucial support for those who are feeling alienated and targeted in a divided social climate.