Children as young as four and five were among those to commit sex offences in Northamptonshire since 2012, shocking statistics have shown.
A Freedom of Information request asked Northamptonshire Police to provide information on crimes committed in the county by under-11s between 2012 and 2017.
In 2017 there were seven instances of children committing sex crimes, compared to two in 2016, four in 2015, none in 2013 and one in 2012. A total of 18 sex crimes were recorded.
Among the most shocking crimes committed were the rape of a boy aged over 16 by an 11-year-old, two separate instances of the rape of a boy under 13 by eight-year-old children in 2014 and 2017, and the rape of a girl under 13 by an 11-year-old in 2015. The data did not reveal the gender of the offending child.
An NSPCC spokesperson said: “Peer on peer sexual abuse is a significant child protection issue that needs to continue to be addressed - not least through fit for purpose sex and relationship education starting at all primary schools.
“Children must be taught about sexuality, consent, risks and protection in an age-appropriate way to help them make healthy relationship decisions, learn how to treat others and how to know when something is not right.
"The criminal justice system must also support children who have committed offences to change their behaviour while holding young people increasingly accountable for their actions as they mature.
“If you’re concerned that a child is displaying harmful sexual behaviour our specially trained helpline practitioners can help on 0808 800 5000.”
The data also included an eight-year-old committing an act of "exposure or voyeurism".
The remaining 13 crimes recorded were:
- a sex assault on a girl under 13 (three instances)
- a sex assault on a male over 13 (three instances)
- a sex assault on a male under 13 (one instance)
- sexual activity involving a child under 13 (6 instances)
The youngest recorded offenders were four and five, with both guilty if committing sexual assault on under 13 boys.
The average age of the children fell from 10 in 2012, 9.25 in 2014 and 2015, and 7.5 in 2016, to seven in 2017.
A spokesperson for Northamptonshire Police said: “The safety and protection of children is a high priority for the force and the circumstances of all reported incidents are fully investigated.
“We work closely with partner agencies, including schools, social services and the Youth Offending Service, in a bid to divert young people away from offending behaviour and to ensure appropriate safeguarding measures are put in place where necessary.”