Children as young as six are falling prey to an epidemic of street crime whose victims are targeted for their smartphones, with Apple's iPhone the most frequently stolen model .
More than 10,000 phones are stolen every month in the UK, and two-thirds of victims are aged between 13 and 16, according to figures obtained under a Freedom of Information request.
More than 170 iPhones are stolen each day, with young people as young as six regularly affected, say police. Hertfordshire Police revealed that one victim was a three-year-old who had been given the phone as a toy.
In Nottinghamshire, the figures showed that of the 1,223 mobile phones stolen last year, 40 per cent of victims were aged under 21, while in Cheshire, 35 per cent of victims were in the same age group. In Hertfordshire, 32 per cent of victims were under 20, while in Cumbia, 28 per cent of victims were in the same age bracket.
Mobile phone thefts affecting 10- to 15-year-olds rose by 40 per cent in Humberside last year, while in Kent, the number of thefts from 16- to 20-year-olds increased by 30 per cent over the last three years.
Police have been posted outside schools in a drive to cut thefts, with local authorities even funding self-defence classes for primary school pupils to combat the menace.
Keith Hayward, professor of criminology at the University of Kent, told The Times: "Criminals steal only items that are desirable and that they can sell, and kids are easy targets. No one below the age of ten carried phones around ten years ago. Now it's a common occurrence.
"Parents give their children a mobile phone because they feel it will make them safe, but ironically it can lead to increasing victimisation."
More than 1 million children aged between 10 and 15 were victims of crime in 2011-12, according to the government's annual Crime Survey of England and Wales, a 4 per cent increase on the previous year. Just under half of those crimes involved theft of personal property.
Police are struggling to tackle the problem, the statistics show. In Hertfordshire, only 5 per cent of the 11,027 reported cases of mobile phone theft between 2009-11 resulted in charges being brought, with an offender cautioned in just 77 cases. In the same period in Thames Valley, crimes went undetected in 79 per cent of cases.