Children as young as five are being excluded from British schools for sexually bullying fellow-pupils, according to a report on Monday.
In schools across Britain, children are being subjected by fellow-pupils to many forms of sexual bullying - from explicit graffiti, sexualised name-calling and spreading rumours about someone's sexual behaviour, to assault and even rape.
The most recent government figures show that from 2006-2007 as many 3,500 children were expelled from schools in England and Wales for sexual misconduct, BBC television reported in a programme shown on Monday.
As many as 280 of the expulsions were from primary schools, and 20 of the children were only five years old, the BBC's investigative current affairs programme Panorama revealed.
Worryingly, it quoted experts as saying sexual bullying by children was a growing problem.
“Over the past four or five years, we used to get one or two calls a year on sexual bullying on the Kidscape helpline. Now we are getting two or three a week,” said Michelle Elliot of the anti-bullying charity Kidscape.
A survey conducted by Panorama and the charity Young Voice found that 28 out of 273 youngsters aged 11 to 19 years who were questioned had been forced to do something sexual they did not want to do.
One girl said she was forced to perform oral sex on a fellow pupil and another said she had been raped.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), a leading British charity, said such experiences are not unusual.
"We've had examples for instance of a 16-year-old boy who raped a much younger boy in a secluded setting in school," the NSPCC's Paula Telford told the programme.
"We've had a 10-year-old who was forcing other children to perform sex acts on him, and performing sex acts on them. And we've had much younger children who've been inappropriately touching each other."
The programme found that children are unwilling to talk about sexual bullying, that schools are hesitant to act on complaints, and that even in the most serious cases, those responsible are often not being prosecuted or even counselled.
The programme also found long-term implications of sexual bullying by children, with one expert drawing a link with adult sex offenders.
"When you look at the backgrounds of some adult sex offenders, you do see inappropriate sexual behaviour when they are younger, as well as other indicators. It doesn't mean that every child who acts out sexually is going to become a sex offender, but we ignore it at our peril," Elliot from Kidscape said.