Child sex crimes are soaring with the police recording 85 new offences every day, according to the latest figures.
Last year more than 31,000 reports of abuse, including rape and assault were made to the police in England and Wales, according to statistics published by the NSPCC.
This was an increase of more than a third compared to the previous year.
The majority of the victims were aged between 12 and 16 but more than one in four – 8,282 – were younger than 11, the charity said.
Of those, 2,895 are estimated to be aged five or under, including 94 babies.
More than three quarters of the reported abuse cases, 24,457 were against girls.
Britain’s largest force, the Metropolitan Police, recorded the highest number of sex crimes against children, with 3,523.
But the rise in the number of child sex crimes being reported has not been mirrored by the proportion of successful convictions.
Figures show that the conviction rate for child sex offences has fallen from 67 per cent to 60 per cent, over the past two years, while the conviction rate for all other crimes has remained steady at 87 per cent.
A spokesman for the NSPCC said it was not clear why the figures were continuing to soar, but the continuing impact of the Savile scandal, which had persuaded more young people to come forward, combined with better recording methods by the police, were thought to be possible factors.
Peter Wanless, the NSPCC’s chief executive, said: “These figures are disturbing and clearly illustrate child sexual abuse is a continuing and widespread problem that needs urgent action.
“But we know this is still only a fraction of the true number of victims because some endure an agonising wait of many years before telling anyone – and others never reveal what has happened to them.
“It’s time to throw down the gauntlet to government which has to ensure all sexual abuse victims get specialist treatment to help them recover. By the end of this current Parliament there should be no children living in the shadow of abuse.”
A wide-ranging independent inquiry, headed up by New Zealand Justice Lowell Goddard, has been established by the Home Secretary Theresa May to probe allegations of historical child sex abuse and a Westminster paedophile ring.
Last month it emerged that police are investigating more than 1,400 prominent men, including politicians, celebrities and those linked to institutions, for historic child sex abuse.
A Government spokeswoman said:”Children must be protected from the systemic and appalling cases of abuse we have seen in Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford and elsewhere.
“That is why the Prime Minister hosted a Downing Street summit earlier this year to launch a package of new measures to better protect victims and survivors, bring more offenders to justice and ensure that those who are charged with protecting our children are held properly accountable.
“We have given child sexual abuse the status of a national threat so that it is prioritised by every police force, will shortly launch a new child sexual abuse taskforce and centre of expertise to improve local responses and we have provided £7 million funding to organisations that support victims.
“It is encouraging that police figures show more victims are having the confidence to come forward and report these often ignored and under-reported crimes.”
Last month the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) said they have seen an “unprecedented increase” in the number of reports of abuse in the wake of the Savile affair.
Chief Constable Simon Bailey, NPCC national lead for child protection, said: “My assessment of the scale of child abuse chimes with the figures released today by the NSPCC.
“The service now looks upon child abuse very differently and victims can expect a professional response.
“As a result many, many, more victims have found the confidence to report abuse, knowing they will be treated with sensitivity and respect, that we will listen to them and that we will take their allegations seriously.
“Increased reporting means we are dealing with unprecedented number of investigations, however, I do feel that this is the tip of the iceberg.
“We have to balance the right of victims of previous abuse to justice with protecting children and the vulnerable now.
“We are working hard with our partners in education, health services, local government and the excellent support organisations to deal with this challenge, in which we all have an essential role to play. We would all recognise there is more we have to do.”
Karen Froggatt, Director for child victims of sexual exploitation at the independent charity Victim Support said:
“Children and young people who make the brave decision to speak up about this horrific crime deserve the very best level of support across all agencies.
“Sexual abuse can have a devastating and long lasting impact on people’s lives. Our Young Victim and Young Witness Services are a lifeline to children who need support, working in families, schools and communities.
“Navigating the criminal justice system, including giving evidence in court can be a terrifying experience. We supported thousands of children who went through this ordeal last year, and for the best chance at justice, children need to be able to give evidence in a place they feel comfortable.
“Each police force should create a ‘safe space’ for this and every child should have automatic access to a trained intermediary for support.