As many as 50 children a week are being referred to gender reassignment doctors in the UK, including children as young as four, a new report reveals.
Figures show that a record number of children now believe they were born in the wrong body, according to the Mirror. Some experts attribute the rise in the number of children being referred is due to the growing acceptance of gender issues.
Children ages 11 and over can be treated with powerful hormones to prevent puberty. The children are allowed to decide whether they want to go ahead with gender realignment when they are older.
Gender dysphoria expert Professor Ashely Grossman told the Mirror that the puberty blocking treatment "does not harm children" but instead gives them time to made the decision.
"Many of these children have very mild gender dysphoria and are not very happy in their gender but puberty is a very confusing time. Others are clearly trapped in the wrong body," she said.
Grossman said the drugs given to the children "just buy them another couple of years before they decided to do anything permanent". She emphasised that the drugs are not a treatment to change their gender or sex but to give them time.
According to the figures obtained by the Mirror, there has been a 24% rise in children visiting the Gender Identity Development Service, or GIDS. The NHS-run service met with 1,302 referrals in the last six months, including two four-year-olds and four five-year-olds.
"This is a massive increase," Grossman said.
She added: "I only deal with adult patients but the majority tell me they realised they had gender problems when they were young but hadn't seen a medical professional until an adult. There is more realisation now."
Gender expert Professor Miroslav Djordjevic took issue with the rise in children seeking gender reassignment doctors. "I cannot believe the 50 a week will all be transgender," he said.
"To say a girl of five is transgender is impossible. But it is easier to ask than not do anything and children suffer. At the minute it's something like a fashion," he added.
Michelle Dyason, whose eight-year-old child was born a boy but identifies as a girl, disagrees and says it is "not just a phase". Tegan Dyason, born Tom, has been wearing girls' clothes since she was three and began visiting gender experts last year.
Tegan's mother said the number of children wanting to change gender might even be higher. "I have spoken to a lot of parents but the majority are on waiting lists to get in to clinics".