A CHILDREN’s charity has warned of an increase in the number of children in the region being trafficked for sex.

Barnardo’s North East said that of the 61 sexually exploited children and young people it worked with in September last year, 16 had been trafficked.

Wendy Shepherd, Barnardo's North East children's service manager, said the charity was witnessing a year on year increase in children being trafficked and abused.

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She added: “These are children born in the UK or who have lived most of their lives here who are taken away from their own town or city for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

“It may just be from Hartlepool to Darlington, but it’s across borders from one area to another, meaning the young person becomes even more vulnerable and unsure who to turn to.”

Mrs Shepherd said the charity had worked with children who were put on public transport and told they would be met at the other end and taken to a party – but were actually raped and abused.

Warning that exploited children faced a bleak future, she said: “We know from the exploited young people we work with, many suffer mental health problems, become adult prostitutes, misuse alcohol and other substances, and suffer long-lasting emotional damage.”

Nationally, the September snapshot found that the number of young people known by Barnardo’s to be trafficked within the country rose by 84 per cent from 76 to 140 children year on year. That equates to 1 in 4 in the UK - up from 1 in 6 in 2011.

The charity is calling on the Government to do more to protect young people from being internally trafficked.

Mrs Shepherd said: “If we are to save children from suffering for years at the hands of their abusers, more must be done by the authorities to identify victims of child sexual exploitation who are being internally trafficked and to stop this activity earlier on.”

A survey of specialist children’s services in the North-East found that five had noted a rise in online grooming and exploitation, while three services reported an increase in the number of younger children they helped, with children as young as seven meeting strangers on the internet.