The shocking scale of involvement of children and teenagers, aged 18 or under, in rape and sexual assaults, is revealed in an annual report of the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme.
Young offenders were linked to 45% of all sexual offences committed that year.
Sexual offences are one of the few crime categories where offending rates by young people are on the rise.
There were 334 sexual offences by juvenile offenders recorded in 2016, an annual increase of 39%.
They include 114 cases of rape and 21 of child pornography, while the respective figures in 2015 were 47 and nine.
Assistant Garda Commissioner Pat Leahy, the chairman of the GJDP’s monitoring committee, said it had identified a risk attached to the current process for the management and supervision of child sexual offenders.
“Training and policy development is required in this area, in order for this issue to be effectively addressed,” said Mr Leahy.
Overall, there was a 10% reduction in crimes committed by juvenile offenders in 2016.
The GJDP report shows a total of 17,615 incidents were referred to it in 2016 — a decrease of 1,898 crimes compared to the previous year. There were two murder cases.
There was a related reduction in the number of young offenders — 9,451 in 2016 — a decrease of 3.6%, and the lowest level in the programme’s 15-year history.
Gardaí identified 436 juveniles as being responsible for six or more crimes during the year, including seven who were aged 12.
More than a quarter of all young offenders referred to the GJDP were aged 14 or under.
The juvenile diversion programme, which was established in 2003, is designed to allow young offenders to avoid having their crime processed through the courts system.
Theft was the most common crime recorded by juvenile offenders — in 31% of cases, followed by public order (22%) and damage to property (10%).
Approximately three-quarters of all young offenders referred to the programme were males.
The report shows juvenile offenders were also linked to 30% of all robberies, 19% of assaults, 23% of thefts, and 26% of burglaries in 2016.
The number of children referred to the GJDP in 2016, from the garda southern region, which covers Cork, Kerry, and Limerick, fell by 2%, to 1,924, due to large reductions in numbers from the Cork West and Limerick area.
However, there was an increase in the number referred from Cork City — up 10%, to 628, and up 15% in Kerry, to 338.