IN the last five years 26 children under the age of 16 have been charged for sexual offences on other under 16s in Gwent.

A Freedom of Information request put to Gwent Police by the Argus found in the past five years (August 2009-August 2014) there have been 24 crimes by 26 offenders under the age of 16 who committed a sexual offence on another child under the age of 16.

Newport had the highest number of sexual offences, with 12, followed by five in Monmouthshire, four in Torfaen, two in Blaenau Gwent and one in Caerphilly.

Of those offences, 12 were sexual assault.

Sexual assault is defined as when a person intentionally touches another person, and the touching is sexual and the person does not consent.

During the five year period there were nine cases of an under 16 raping another under 16.

There were also two charges of sexual activity and one ‘other’ sexual offence.

The age of consent is 16. Because children can and do abuse and exploit other children, the Sexual Offences Act 2003 makes it an offence for children under 16 to engage in sexual activity, to protect children who are victims.

However, children of the same or similar age are highly unlikely to be prosecuted for engaging in sexual activity, where the activity is mutually agreed and there is no abuse or exploitation.

Detective Superintendent Ian Roberts of Gwent Police’s public protection unit said: “These sort of incidents are mainly dealt with by my team or the child protection team depending on the case.

“Some low level cases may be dealt with by the sexual offences team – for example if the child perpetrator is over 13 or if the offence is intrafamilial.”

For the most part, Gwent Police’s specialist unit for handling serious sexual and violent crimes, Onyx, deals with child sex victims aged 13-16.

If an historical allegation is made to Gwent Police, when the victim was a child but is now an adult, it will also go to Onyx.

Det Supt Roberts said: “Anecdotally, we have seen an increase in the number of children getting caught up in sexual offences – particularly through using social networks, sexting, that sort of thing.

Often they do not realise it is illegal to post pictures of under 16s.

“Young people are taking and sharing images on social media, which is why the force holds a lot of internet safety classes with schools from Key Stage 2 level up teaching them about safer relationships. We also have lesson plans available to download for free to help teachers explain the dangers of this kind of behaviour.”

Advice from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) on the issue of youngsters “sexting” or sending text messages or pictures with a sexual content is that, as a parent, it is important to understand the risks so that you can talk to your child about how to stay safe and what to do if they ever feel scared or uncomfortable.

Sexting is often seen as flirting by children and young people who feel that it’s a part of life.

There was a 28 per cent increase in calls to ChildLine in 2012/13 compared to the previous year that mentioned “sexting” – nearly one every day.

Most young people do not see “sexting” as a problem and are reluctant to talk to adults about it because they are afraid of being judged or having their phones taken away.

Sending pictures and inappropriate content has become normal teenage behaviour, according to the charity, but they say it’s important to explain to your child the risks, how to stay safe and that they can talk to you.

You know your child best and your approach should be based on your child and your parenting style.

When you give your child their first mobile phone, outline your expectations and explain the rules of having the phone. Monitor how younger children can use their phone – for example, set up controls so that only you can authorise the apps that your child downloads.

Ask your child what they feel is acceptable to send to people and then ask if they would be happy for you or their grandparents to see that photo. If the answer is “no”, explain that the image or message is probably not appropriate to send.

Make sure your child is comfortable saying no, that they know their body is private and that being asked to “sext” is inappropriate.

Tell your child what can happen when things go wrong. Don’t accuse your child of “sexting”, but do explain the dangers.

You may find it easiest to use real-life examples, such as television programmes or news stories, to help you explain the risks.

Ask them if they would want something private shown to the world. Explain that photos are easy to forward and can be copied. Talk about whether your child thinks that the person who sends a request is likely to be asking other people to do the same. Let your child know that you are always there for support if they feel pressured by anyone.