Sexually explicit photos schoolchildren take of themselves on their mobile phones and send to friends are ending up in the hands of paedophiles, police have warned.
Det-Sgt Sean Bell said child pornography seized by WA Police last year included photos that appeared to be the product of the increasingly popular practice of "sexting", when underage girls send sexual photos of themselves to their boyfriends.
He said when these young relationships ended, the boyfriends sometimes sent the photos to other people and on occasion they ended up on the internet, where they could be accessed by paedophiles.
Det-Sgt Bell, from the online child exploitation squad, said sexting had become a growing problem and many young people were not aware that the photos could be put on the internet.
"It's only a matter of time before they end up in the hands of a paedophile," he said.
"Quite a lot of the child pornography seizures we make have these sort of sexting photos mixed in among hardcore child pornography."
Police Minister Rob Johnson described sexting as a "disturbing practice" and said parents needed to ensure their children were aware of the dangers it posed. "Children don't see it as a crime and fail to grasp the consequences of their actions," he said.
"They may think they are only sending an image to their boyfriend or girlfriend, but they could be sending that image to the world, which could have devastating long-term psychological effects.
"Parents who entrust their children with mobile phones should take a stronger interest in how their children are using their phones and educate them on the dangers of sending explicit material."
Det-Sgt Bell said sexting was one of a range of new problems associated with emerging technology. He said the internet was a minefield for children and police would be warning West Australians of this tomorrow as part of Safer Internet Day.
He said paedophiles trawled through online chat forums and social networking sites such as Facebook to prey on children.
"There have been instances where people have been tracked down by strangers simply by the info they have posted on the internet," he said.
"You shouldn't post anything on the internet that you don't want the world to know. And if anyone does anything inappropriate online, don't be afraid to tell your parents."