Thousands of sexual offences against children as young as four are being reported to police, a charity has warned.
There were 7,618 offences involving victims aged between four and eight recorded by forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the past year, according to figures obtained by the NSPCC.
The charity contacted 44 UK forces and 30 responded with details of reported offences between April 2018 and March 2019.
In the same period in 2017-18, 8,170 sexual offences against young children were reported to 31 forces. The year before that there were 6,613 reported to the same number of forces, the charity said.
Hundreds of young children contacted Childline about sexual abuse in the last year, the charity also revealed. The service provided 541 counselling sessions to children under the age of 11 who cited this as their main concern.
Helen Westerman, the charity’s head of safeguarding, said: “When children experience sexual abuse at such an early age it can have deeply traumatic consequences and a lasting impact on their lives.
“One of the major issues is children may not even know what is happening to them is wrong and as a result it can take many years to come to the surface.
“It is vitally important that young people and concerned adults feel confident in coming forward to report sexual abuse and that parents are also comfortable talking to their children about these sensitive issues to help keep them safe.”
The figures were released as the NSPCC relaunched its campaign to encourage parents to talk to young children about how to stay safe from sexual abuse.
The Talk Pants project suggests ways of discussing the subject through songs and children’s characters without using the words “sex” or “abuse”.
Peter Wanless, the charity’s chief executive, said: “It is very concerning that the number of recorded sexual offences against young children is at such a high level and it is vital we do more to help them stay safe from sexual abuse.
“That is why Talk Pants is such an important tool for parents as it enables them to have vital conversations with their child in an age-appropriate way.”