More than 2,000 children across the UK were reported to police for crimes linked to indecent images in the space of three years.
The figures were released amid concerns over so-called sexting among young people, where they share nude pictures on their phones and social media.
Children’s charity the NSPCC submitted a Freedom of Information request to police across the UK, which revealed that a total of 2,031 under-18s were reported for crimes linked to the possession, distribution, or production of indecent images of children in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
Under the letter of the law, making or sharing indecent photographs of anyone aged under the age of 18 could be classed as an offence – but there have been calls for recording rules to be adapted so children are not routinely criminalised.
In one previously reported episode, a 14-year-old boy was added to a police database after he sent a naked image of himself to a female classmate on picture messaging app Snapchat.
Recent research by the NSPCC suggested that parents were split on whether it was illegal for children to take nude selfies. In the last year the number of children counselled by Childline about sexting increased by 15% to almost 1,400.
The NSPCC has called for internet companies to make it easier for young people to get indecent pictures taken down so that they do not end up in the hands of paedophiles.
Chief Executive Peter Wanless said: “It’s not clear why so many under-18s are being reported to the police but we have concerns that young people sharing nude selfies may be a factor.”
The latest police figure will potentially include young people sharing nude pictures, but also teenage paedophiles found with child abuse images.
The total number of offences regardless of age also rose sharply during the three years, from 4,530 in 2013, to 6,303 in 2014 and 10,818 in 2015.
Mr Wanless said: “Over the last two decades, digital technology has fuelled an explosion in the production and consumption of child sexual abuse images that increasingly involves the streaming of live video.
“Committed leadership from government, and dedicated police operations have made a real difference.
“But the war on child abuse images is only just beginning. The internet industry must prioritise this issue by committing their expertise and work with the public and voluntary sector to find solutions.”