More than 100 children have a licence to hold a gun in the Thames Valley, new figures show.

At the end of March, 108 children under the age of 18 in the Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxford area were authorised to use powerful weapons like shotguns or other firearms, according to Home Office data.

The revelation has been labelled “absurd” by critics, while others have argued that children should be taught the benefits of shooting and that it may benefit Great Britain’s future Olympic prospects.

The figures show that 101 shotgun and seven firearms certificates have been issued by Thames Valley Police for youngsters aged 14 to 17. Both certificates have been issued to some of these children.

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A further seven children aged under 13 are also certified to use a shotgun.

There is no minimum age to hold a shotgun certificate in England and Wales, but a child must be over 14 for a firearm certificate.

Under-14s cannot buy their own weapons or ammunition, but are entitled to possess guns.

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Certified youngsters who are under 15 are allowed to borrow shotguns while under adult supervision but cannot be given one of their own until their 15th birthday.

The youngest child in the UK to hold a shotgun licence is seven years old.

Peter Squires, from the UK Gun Control Network, said: "The fact that children can be licensees is a ridiculous anomaly, given that children could never be legally responsible in their own right for the safety and security of the weapon.

"GCN believe firmly that the privilege to own and use a firearm should be tied very closely to the responsibility for its use and security. This cannot be assured with children."

Martin Parker, of the British Association of Shooting and Conservation, said current legislation benefits those in training for Olympic and Commonwealth shooting disciplines and those being taught pest control techniques.

He added: "Encouraging younger people to enjoy the benefits of responsible shooting, while teaching the principles of safety and self-discipline, is to be encouraged."

A Home Office spokesperson said the UK had some of the toughest gun laws in the world, with firearm possession subject to stringent controls.

He added: “There are strict controls on young certificate holders who must be thoroughly vetted by the police.’’