A THIRD of all child sexual offences are committed by children, charity experts say after the "horrific" rapes of two youngsters by a 13-year-old boy.

Sharon Copsey of the NSPCC spoke out after the teenager admitted four charges of rape against victims aged 11 and 14 at a youth court held in Poole this week.

As reported in the Daily Echo, the boy was not given a custodial sentence, but instead received a 12-month referral order, requiring him to engage with a youth offending team.

Ms Copsey, regional head of the service for the south west, said: "This was horrific abuse inflicted on children by someone who is a child himself. Disturbingly, we know that a third of all child sexual offences are committed by children.

“This issue is not widely understood, but the criminal justice system must ensure that those who commit these offences are helped to address their sexually harmful behaviour in an effort to reduce the number of victims – as well as holding young people increasingly accountable for their actions as they mature."

District Judge Stephen Nicholls explained he was following sentencing guidelines for an offender of the boy’s age.

He told the youth: “If you had been an adult and pleaded guilty to those matters, the sentence would have been measured in many years of imprisonment.”

The NSPCC's 'turn the page' programme works directly with children who exhibit sexually harmful behaviour.

"We visit hundreds of primary schools every year with our 'speak out stay safe' service to teach children about what abuse is and who they can turn to for help," Ms Copsey said.

Criminal barrister-turned-MP Michael Tomlinson said the sentencing process is "complex".

Mr Tomlinson, who serves Mid-Dorset and North Poole, said such decisions are based on information not always made publicly available during proceedings.

“The issue with these cases is that they’re very complex,” he said.

“I can’t comment specifically on this case, as I don’t have all the details, but in my experience cases are quite often far more complex than can be seen in a sentence alone.

“It may be that the sentence itself seems surprising, but there will be a reason behind that decision. I certainly found that when I was a practising barrister.”

Youths in need of support can contact Childline on 0800 1111 or by visiting childline.org.uk