Parents are being urged to be on the alert for a disturbing online game which encourages children to self-harm.
The PSNI, children’s charities and schools have spoken out to warn of the horrors of the “vile Momo Challenge” which promotes suicide.
Detective Sergeant Elaine McCormill, PSNI Public Protection Branch, stated: “This extremely disturbing challenge conceals itself within other harmless looking games or videos played by children, and when downloaded, it asks the user to communicate with “Momo” via popular messaging applications such as WhatsApp. It is at this point that children are threatened that they will be cursed or their family will be hurt if they do not self-harm.
“I am disgusted that a so-called game is targeting our young children and I would encourage parents to know what your children are looking at and who they are talking to.
“Whilst the threat of a curse may sound silly to an adult, it could be a very frightening prospect for a young child and they may feel under pressure to carry out acts to protect themselves or family from further harm.
“The most fundamental piece of advice that I can offer is to speak with your children – let them know that they do not have to deal with any concerns on their own. It is crucial that parents are involved with their children’s online lives and I’d urge parents to make children aware of online dangers and ensure they know that they can speak to someone if anything or anyone online causes them concern.
“I would also advise parents to ensure that any devices used by your children are restricted to age suitable content. However, I am aware of media reports that the “Momo” challenge has popped up even when these controls are in place, so there really is no substitution for supervising the games that children are playing and the videos that they watch online.
“I would encourage anyone who has been a victim of the “Momo” Challenge to contact police on 101 or of course, 999 in an emergency so that we can examine the device, gather information and investigate the incident.
The head of IT at Ulidia Integrated College, in Carrick, reported that “Momo” has been spotted on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, WhatsApp, Minecraft and Roblox.
He said: “It involves the appearance of a frightening avatar on the screen. This character asks them to accept a variety of challenges promoting self-harm or it will ‘curse and get them’ in the middle of the night. The dares become increasingly risky and finally ends with a suicide challenge.
“Whilst some websites are claiming this to be a hoax, the overwhelming reports from our students would suggest otherwise.”
The issue has also been highlighted to parents by Carrickfergus Central Primary School.
“This new game ‘Momo’ has recently come to the UK and encourages children to, amongst other things, harm themselves. It also encourages children to keep their activities a secret.”
Anne Donaghy, chief executive of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council who is also chair of the Niamh Louise Foundation charity, said she was “shocked and deeply alarmed following a warning by the PSNI of the potentially deadly dangers to children”.
“I would encourage anybody who has any concerns whatsoever to contact our charity, the NSPCC or Childline for advice and guidance, or the police in the first instance if they encounter any targeting of children through this vile game.”
John Stewart MLA said: “It is truly awful that we need to be aware of such things but parents please note. There is mounting concern regarding a game which encourages users to cause themselves harm, and in some cases, may lead to suicide. It is currently “targeting” Northern Ireland children. It has resulted in the PSNI putting out a Northern Ireland wide alert to warn parents of the potentially deadly dangers their children could be exposed to.”