According to Police Scotland figures, released through a Freedom of Information request, 151 reports of youngsters aged nine and under vanishing between April and November were received by the force, compared to 115 reports for the same period in 2019 – a rise of 31 per cent.
The statistics, obtained by parents campaign group UsForThem Scotland, reveal that since restrictions were imposed officers received 5,692 reports of missing young people aged between zero and 18, the equivalent of 23 a day.
The organisation said the figures showed lockdown may have caused more vulnerable children to go missing and urged the Scottish Government to consider the impact of restrictions on the most vulnerable youngsters.
September saw the highest number of children under-10 go missing at 31 – compared to 11 in 2019 – with 25 disappearing in August, 23 in July and 21 in June.
There were 19 cases in October, 17 in November – down from 24 in 2019 – ten in May and five in April.
The figures were taken from Police Scotland’s National Missing Persons Database, which was introduced in 2016. The force investigates more than 20,000 missing persons cases each year.
However, the statistics for missing young people aged between ten and 19 were down on April to November last year, at 5,541 compared to 6,445, although the months of August, September and October this year did see a rise from 2,359 reported cases to 2,517.
Jo Bisset, organiser for UsForThem Scotland, said: “Clearly lockdown restrictions made life incredibly tough for young people, particularly those who are vulnerable or from deprived areas.
“It’s impossible to say for sure, but we need to be open to the possibility that lockdown caused this increase in very young people running away.
“The Scottish Government is now considering what to do next in terms of restrictions for the coming weeks and months and whether or not to keep schools open. We would urge ministers to look at these statistics in relation to children aged nine and under and reflect on the further difficulties closing schools may cause.
“Keeping schools open normally is the best way to ensure children, especially vulnerable ones, can access education, support and as normal a way of life as possible through this very challenging period.”
The Scottish Government has been asked for a response, but First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in a statement last week the return of pupils to school on January 18 was still under review due to concerns around the potential transmission of the new strain of Covid-19 in children.
Chief Inspector Colin Convery, of Police Scotland's National Missing Persons Unit, said the force responded to “thousands of missing person reports every year” and “many of those reported missing are children and young people”, however he stressed the “vast majority are found or return, safe and well, soon after being reported missing.”
He added: “People go missing for a multitude of reasons. We work, proactively, with partner organisations locally and nationally to try to help anyone who feels leaving is their only option, and to protect people who may be vulnerable."