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Under 18s are using their smartphones for sexting as police cases are surging Unsplash

Children as young as 10 have been reported to UK police after being caught sending sexual images of themselves, as data shows these "sexting" cases have more than doubled in two years.

Reports of children sharing or processing sexual images of themselves or others have reached more than 6,200 incidents this year, data shows – an increase 131% from 2014/2015.

One police chief said the surge in cases may be caused by exposure to "extreme pornography" and has called on social media platforms to become quicker at removing indecent images of under-18s.

Data collected from all police forces in England and Wales, recorded since 2014, indicated 14-year-olds are most likely to be reported for sexting offences.

The sharing of sexual images of a child is illegal in the UK, even when the culprit is another child.

Figures showed boys are just as likely as girls to be the "perpetrators" of sexting offences, but suggested that girls are more likely to be recorded as victims.

In 2016/17, police recorded a total of 6238 sexting offences - an increase of 33% on the previous year when there were a total of 4681 recorded offences. That was a 73% increase from 2014/15.

Chief Constable Simon Bailey of the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC), said that parents and schools need to spearhead the response to the spread of such sexual imagery.

He commented: "A third all of child sexual abuse is committed by young people themselves - tackling and preventing it is a significant challenge for both schools and the police.

"Forces are risk assessing every case to ensure we are not unnecessarily stigmatising children and saddling them with a criminal record. But there will always be a criminal investigation where we see that young people are being coerced, exploited or blackmailed.

"I am concerned about the impact that exposure to extreme pornography can have on children so we need to consider if a lack of universal relationship and sex education is compounding the problem."

He added: "There is also undoubtedly more to be done to remove indecent imagery quickly and robustly from across social media platforms once it has been shared or posted without consent."

In January 2016, the Home Office launched "Outcome 21", which allows police to record a crime as having happened but for no formal criminal action to be taken if not in the public interest.

Later, in November the same year, the College of Policing advised that officers investigating sexting cases should recognise the long-term impact that criminalising young people can have.

It said officers should record all cases of under-18s sharing images of themselves or other children as crimes but formal action is only needed where there is exploitation or child protection issues.

The number of young people charged for sexting has dropped from 150 in 2014/15 to 63 in 2016/17. Meanwhile, over the same period, uses of Outcome 21 spiked from 34 to 2079.

David Tucker, College of Policing lead on crime and criminal justice, said: "It is clear that where children and young people are being exploited, forced or coerced into sharing or generating indecent imagery of themselves and/or others, the offenders should be prosecuted.

"Our advice takes into consideration that some young people send each other these types of images not realising they are breaking the law.

"In these circumstances the advice is to consider the long-term impact, and avoid stigmatising or unnecessarily criminalising young people. Police powers, including prosecution, should be used only when necessary and in a proportionate way."