Violence against babies and young children more than doubled last year, a national survey of hospital data revealed today.
Accident and emergency departments in England and Wales saw the number of children aged 10 and under who were injured in a violent attack rise from an estimated 3,805 to 8,067 - or a 112 per cent increase.
Violence against people of all ages fell by 12 per cent overall compared with 2006 - a trend which will give a boost to Home Office ministers on the day quarterly crime figures are due to be published.
But today's report by experts from Cardiff University's violence research group said the unexpected rise in child victims was a "cause for concern".
Under 10s were the only category to see a rise in violence against them.
Maxillofacial surgeon Professor Jon Shepherd, who chairs the group, said: "We would have expected levels among 11- to 17-year-old children to show a rise, because of the increases in youth violence that people have in the back of their minds.
"But that was not what we found."
The report said: "It is not clear whether violence at the hands of parents or carers is responsible for this increase - recent evidence suggests that violence between children at school and in public places is also a problem.
"In any event, the roles of child safeguarding agencies including the NHS, police and local authorities remain essential and should be enhanced.
"This increase against violence directed against children in England and Wales is cause for concern."
The assault injury rate for under 10s rose from 0.7 per 1,000 in 2006 to 1.5 last year, it added.
Victims over 18 saw the greatest fall in violence, and among over 50s there was a 17 per cent decline, but those aged 18 to 30 remained at greatest risk, making up nearly half of violence-related patients.
In the year an estimated 322,000 people went to A&E after suffering violence compared with 364,000 in 2006.
The report said this continued the downward trend seen since 2000.
"This A&E-based study does not shed light on the causes of these decreases," it said. "Potential reasons include more effective policing, stemming from reliance on more targeted approaches."
It added that violence had shown a "much greater decrease" in the second year after controversial round-the-clock drinking reforms were brought in than in the first 12 months.
The document warned that data on hospital admissions appeared to show a different trend to A&E figures.
Violence-related admissions from 2000 to 2005 had decreased in frequency but increased in severity, it said.
The experts gathered data from 29 A&E departments and then extrapolated the figures to national levels.
Kathy Evans of the Children's Society said: "This is of serious concern.
"It is a shocking reminder that, while many are preoccupied by violence perpetrated by children, we need to look at the violence the children are experiencing from a very early age, and how it influences them."
She added: "It is particular concern to see that this young age group was the only group to see an increase."
The NSPCC's head of child protection awareness Chris Cloke said: "The high number of children being treated at hospitals for violent injuries is deeply worrying.
"It's not clear why there appears to be a dramatic increase but we urge all hospital staff to be vigilant to possible cases of child abuse.
"This is why we are working closely with doctors and nurses to advise them on spotting deliberate injuries."
He added: "Hospitals and children's services need to work better together to identify children who have been deliberately injured and act to protect them.
"Sadly, violence against very young children is nothing new."
A Home Office spokesman said: "Any violent crime is intolerable particularly when it is directed against children.
"That is why the Government's recently published Tackling Violence Action Plan includes new resources for healthcare providers, local authorities and the police to share information to ensure that people at risk are protected and offenders are brought swiftly to justice.
"Violence makes up less than 1 per cent of all crime and the risk of being a victim of violence is extremely low.
"This report actually reveals a 12 per cent fall in violence last year and the British Crime Survey shows that violent crime has fallen by 31 per cent over the past 10 years. In 2008 our grip on violence will tighten further to ensure that this downward trend continues."Reuse content