ONE in five schoolchildren in the region have witnessed animal cruelty on social media.

The RSPCA has found that a fifth of youngsters aged 10 to 18 in the North West have been exposed to horrific incidents of animal suffering online.

The animal welfare charity receives nearly 5,000 incidents of cruelty and neglect on social media reported to it each year, with more than 700 in the North West.

The RSPCA is launching Generation Kind ­— its biggest education and prevention programme aimed at children and has launched a petition calling for animal welfare to be taught in all schools.

A new poll by the charity also revealed 75 per cent of people in the North West say that animal welfare should be taught in schools.

Chief Executive Chris Sherwood said: “The number of children seeing animal abuse online is shocking ­— the current generation of children are witnessing horrifying animal cruelty and neglect through channels which simply didn’t exist for previous generations.

“The risk for children growing up in the 21st century is that frequent and casual exposure to animal abuse will desensitise them and may even make it seem acceptable. Animals need us now more than ever and we want to grow a new generation of young people who care, who are informed and who want to do their best for animals.

“This is why we are launching Generation Kind, an ambitious education programme targeting schoolchildren, children in care, young offenders or those at risk of offending and other disadvantaged young people. Central to this is a new campaign to get animal welfare taught in all schools.”

The charity hopes that teaching animal welfare will ensure children develop key life skills, including compassion and empathy, as well as respect for animals and a basic understanding of how to care for them.