Children are being sexually abused every seven minutes, according to police data obtained by the NSPCC.

Reported sexual offences against children rose to 76,204 in the last 12 months, a record high, according to the figures from 44 of the 45 police forces released under Freedom of Information laws.

That is a rise of 63 per cent compared to five years ago when there were 46,738 recorded child sexual offences.

Analysis of the data also reveals that where age of victim was provided, a fifth of the offences - some 16,773 - were recorded against children aged ten and under, with 341 of the offences against babies under the age of one.

The NSPCC say the rise in offences which include rape, sexual assault and grooming is partly explained by better recording and increased reporting but believe there has also been a rise fuelled by paedophiles exploiting social media to contact children.

In 2018/19, there were 8,656 recorded child sexual offences flagged as involving an online element - an increase of 18 per cent from the previous year where there were 7,362.

Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: "Record numbers of child sexual offences means we are facing a nationwide crisis in the help available for tens of thousands of children.

"These children are bravely disclosing what happened to them but in too many cases there is not enough timely, joined up and child-friendly support. Instead they are shunted from overstretched service to service.

"We need a radical rethink in the way we help these young people, otherwise they could struggle for the rest of their lives with long term, deep seated trauma."

The charity is calling for the provision of specialised services around the UK, with an emphasis on early joined up support from police, local NHS services, children's services and advocacy for children who have experienced sexual abuse, offered in child-friendly spaces.

Last year there were 69,543 recorded child sexual offences, more than three times the 20,698 when figures were first collected in 2007/08.

Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs' Council lead for child protection, said: "Policing is doing all we can to pursue and prosecute criminals who exploit and abuse young people.

"But much more must be done to stop this abuse happening in the first place. Social media and tech companies need to acknowledge their responsibility and do more to stop children accessing harmful content and prevent abuse on their platforms.

"They have a social responsibility to design out this type of offending and to cooperate in full with police investigations into child abuse or exploitation."

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