sexedMore than 5,000 children and young people under the age of legal consent were diagnosed with sexual infections last year according to new figures.

In total, 5,386 youngsters under the age of legal consent were treated for Chlamydia, gonorrhoea, herpes and other conditions. This is more than double the reported cases a decade ago, when 2,474 cases of sexual infections in minors was reported. Over the last three years more than 16,000 children have been diagnosed with sexual infections. In each of the last three years, girls made up around 87 per cent of the children diagnosed with STIs.

Dr Gwenda Hughes, head of STI surveillance at Public Health England (PHE) said: “Data on infections primarily transmitted through sexual contact are routinely collected, across all age groups, by PHE.

“Rates remain highest in under 25-year-olds and whilst often these infections can be simple to diagnose and treat, if left untreated they can have serious health consequences.

“Regardless of age, everyone should use a condom with new and casual sexual partners, which significantly reduces the risk of getting an STI. We also advise young adults to get screened for chlamydia each year.

“The National Chlamydia Screening Programme is in place in England ensuring access to free testing from a range of convenient locations.

“With regards to those under 13 years old, the number of infections reported each year is very low. In this age group, using the term ‘sexually transmitted infection’ is problematic as it is very rare for children to be sexually active at this age.

“Moreover recent research suggests most of the infections reported are not acquired sexually; and of the few that may have been, sexual abuse was implicated. There is national guidance in place for health professionals to follow in these cases.”

Overall there were 5,354 under 16s treated for sexually transmitted infections in 2011 and 5,967 in 2010.

Although the numbers have fallen over the last three years, critics said this could be because children are becoming more reluctant to seek help if they think they have got an STI.

Among older children STIs are far more prevalent - there were 10,318 children aged 16 who sought treatment last year and 17,810 aged 17.