The number of Welsh children contacting Childline about child sexual exploitation has risen by more than a quarter in the last year.

Figures released by Childline show that 167 Welsh youngsters called the free and confidential counselling service last year – up from 133 the year before – with concerns on child sexual exploitation.

However, the counselling service says that this number could be higher, as 877 children and young people did not state their country of origin when contacting the service.

Credit: PA Images

The report by Childline found that at the service's bases across the UK, including two in Wales, an average of 12 counselling sessions were delivered a day with children who were groomed or forced into sexual activity.

In more than a third of counselling sessions, young people disclosed they were targeted online - usually through social media or video games – often by their peers or people known to them.

Childline says the common reason why children received help on this matter was because they were forced to perform or watch sexual acts or had been persuaded into sending naked images or videos of themselves - with some being threatened that the images would be shared with friends and family.

Credit: PA Images

Des Mannion, the head of NSPCC Cymru/Wales, said: “Child sexual exploitation is all-too-often a hidden crime.

“Sadly, we are hearing from young people every day who are being manipulated or blackmailed into carrying out sexual acts.

“For many this impacts on their mental health and leaves them feeling isolated from the people closest to them. Some turn to self-harm, alcohol or substance misuse as ways of coping with their experiences.

“Everyone must be prepared to confront this problem, from government right through to schools, parents, professionals, and us at Childline.

"The Welsh Government will be teaching all children about healthy relationships from 2022 which aims to provide young people with the information they need to identify what is an unhealthy relationship.

"It is vital that Welsh Government now focus on training the specialist teachers that Wales needs to effectively deliver relationships and sexuality education."

Credit: PA Images

Other major concerns raised to the counselling service by young people in Wales in the last year included bullying, family, relationships and mental health issues.