The number of children being referred to gender identity clinics has quadrupled in the past five years, figures show.
Experts have warned that the huge spike is, in part, due to the promotion of transgender issues in schools which they say has encouraged to question their identity, and “sowed confusion” in their minds.
Figures from the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS), which is the NHS’s only facility for transgender children based at the Tavistock Centre in north London, show that 84 children aged between 3 and 7 were referred last year, compared to 20 in 2012/13.
The number of children referred to the service under the age of ten had also seen a four-fold increase, from 36 in 2012/13 to 165 last year.
Last year there were a total of 2,016 referrals for youngsters aged between three and 18, more than six times more than the 314 referrals five years previously.
Chris McGovern, a former advisor to the Department for Education, said: “It has become an industry, people are making a career out of encouraging children to question gender at an age when they need to be left to be children. When teachers raise these issues children can become confused or unhappy and traumatised by it.”
Mr McGovern, who is chair of Campaign for Real Education, added: “In a sense we are imposing adult concerns on children. Schools feel under huge pressures to comply with a politically correct agenda.”
Dr Joanna Williams, a university lecturer and author of the book Women vs Feminism, has said that schools are “sowing confusion” in children’s minds by over-promoting transgender issues.
She said that feminists were attempting to reshape school policies on gender, adding that children were being forced to “unlearn” the difference between boys and girls.
“Research suggests that just one per cent of the population experience gender issues. Although the number of transgender children is small, it is growing rapidly,” she told the Telegraph Festival of Education last month.
“Children – encouraged by their experiences at school – are beginning to question their gender identity at ever younger ages.
“In doing more than just supporting transgender children, and instead sowing confusion about gender identity, schools do neither boys nor girls any favours.”
Dr Williams added that the growing number of young children being referred for gender counselling stemmed from new policies being adopted by schools, adding that schools were now “encouraging even the youngest children to question whether they are really a boy or a girl.”
Dr Polly Carmichael, a leading NHS psychologist and director of the GIDS, defended the teaching of transgender issues in schools.
She told The Sunday Telegraph: “It is good that schools are putting it on the agenda. It can never be negative if schools are being thoughtful and offering opportunities to discuss topical issues.”
She added that gender is a complex subject, and children should only be taught about it in schools in an “age appropriate” manner.