Mixed-Up 5-Year-Olds and the Alarming Growth of the Gender Identity Industry; Picture: 20 Years Ago the Condition Didn't Exist. Now British Children Are Being Given Bitterly Controversial Puberty Suppressing Drugs on the NHS; SPECIAL INVESTIGATION

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Byline: Paul Bracchi, Tim Stewart and Daniel Bates

CORRECTION: A feature on February 25 said that the condition Gender Identity Disorder did notexist twenty years ago. We are happy to clarify that, prior to this, the condition was identified as atranssexualisma.

THE Tavistock Clinic is based in an anonymous concrete building in North London. Once there, you have to go to the third floor to find the Orwellian-sounding Gender Identity Development Unit.

The unit received APS1,042,000 in funding last year from the local healthcare Trust. In layman's terms, it treats patients who believe they are 'trapped in the wrong body'.

Few would associate such a place with children barely old enough to attend school.

But it emerged this week that a little boy called Zach Avery, just five years old, now wears his hair permanently in bunches after being assessed by 'experts' at the Tavistock and 'coming out' as a girl. And Zach is not an isolated case.

Over the past year, 165 children have been referred to the clinic's team of social workers, child psychotherapists, psychologists and psychiatrists.

Seven children under the age of five were officially diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder (GID) a when a person is born one gender, but feels they are the other. Now, some might ask whether it's not Zach but his parents who need counselling for allowing him to go down this path a when even his grandparents believe he is 'just going through a phase'.

The research supports their view. According to the Tavistock's own figures, up to 80 per cent of youngsters who think they are the wrong sex will change their minds upon reaching adolescence.

Nevertheless, a clinical trial is currently underway at the Tavistock which involves prescribing children from around the age of 12 with drugs to suspend puberty, thus preventing a so the theory goes a the mental anguish caused by the maturing of sex organs and changes in the voice.

It also makes it easier for them to have gender-changing surgery, should they so wish, when they are older. Previously, children had to wait until they were 16 to get hormone-blocking injections in Britain, because, apart from anything else, the effects on brain development, bone growth and fertility are still unknown.

NEVERTHELESS, six children have already begun receiving the medication, with the consent of their families, effectively reducing them to a state of 'biological neutrality' during the course of the treatment. Others are expected to join the trial.

Why did the National Research Ethics Service, the body responsible for sanctioning such studies, give the go-ahead after initially refusing permission? We can't tell you because it declined to elaborate on its decision.

What we can say about youngsters such as Zach Avery, from Purfleet, Essex, is that 20 years ago their condition a if that's what it is a didn't exist.

Gender Identity Disorder was first identified as a syndrome by the American Psychiatric Association back in the Nineties. With the rise of the internet, it quickly gained currency on this side of the Atlantic and elsewhere. Typing the words 'Gender Identity Disorder' into Google brings up more than one million results. There are 125 support groups for transgender people in Britain alone. At least four are specifically aimed at young children and teenagers. Zach's mother, Theresa, it seems, read about one of them in a magazine and answered an advert for the organisation.

'That's when all this started,' says Zach's grandmother, Christine Avery, who lives in Clacton.

'All this' being the sorry saga of a boy who enjoyed dressing up in girls' clothes ending up on the third floor of the Tavistock Clinic.

Until shortly before his fourth birthday in December 2010, Zachy, as his mother calls him, was just a normal little boy. Suddenly, it seems, he became obsessed with the children's TV character Dora the Explorer, began wearing female clothes and stopped playing with his Thomas The Tank Engine. …