Sex offenders are grooming children on Instagram more than any other online platform, the NSPCC has found.

Police in England and Wales recorded 1,944 incidents of sexual communication with children in the six months to September 2018, according to the figures.

Instagram was used in 32 per cent of the 1,317 cases where the method was recorded, Facebook in 23 per cent and Snapchat in 14 per cent.

Instagram and Facebook said they "aggressively" fought grooming, while Snapchat said it was "unacceptable".

Sexual communication with a child became an offence in April 2017, following pressure from campaigners.

In the first 18 months since the crime of sexual communication with a child came into force, a total of 5,161 such crimes were recorded by the police.

Where police forces recorded age and gender, seven out of 10 victims were girls aged 12 to 15, and one in five was aged 11 or under. The youngest child recorded was five years old.

→ READ MORE: SOCIAL MEDIA REGULATION NEEDED TO PROTECT CHILDREN

The charity has urged the government to "tame the Wild West Web" by bringing in regulation to protect children on social networks.

NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless accused social media networks of "10 years of failed self-regulation".

"These figures are overwhelming evidence that keeping children safe cannot be left to social networks. We cannot wait for the next tragedy before tech companies are made to act," he said.

Ahead of the government publishing a delayed white paper on online harm, the charity is pushing for statutory regulation to enforce a legal duty of care to children on social networks, with a penalty of substantial fines if they fail.

The NSPCC said the figures did not "fully reflect the scale of the issue", as many crimes go undetected or unreported.

A National Crime Agency spokesperson said: "It is vital that online platforms used by children and young people have in place robust mechanisms and processes to prevent, identify and report sexual exploitation and abuse, including online grooming.

"Children and young people also need easy access to mechanisms allowing them to alert platforms to potential offending."

The platform recommends young people keep their privacy settings restricted, do not share their username publicly and do not add people they do not know as friends.

A spokesperson from the Home Office said both the Home Secretary and Culture Secretary had "engaged tech firms about their responsibilities towards protecting people".

Last year the Home Secretary announced a £250,000 "innovation call" for organisations to help develop new ways to disrupt the live streaming of abuse.