Crimes involving knives or sharp instruments soared to nearly 40,000 in 2017/18.
London CNN  — 

The deaths of two 17-year-olds in London and Greater Manchester over the weekend have reignited the debate over knife crime in Britain.

A rising number of young people are falling victim to knife attacks across the country, especially in the capital, according to official statistics.

Crimes involving knives or sharp instruments soared to around 40,000 for the year ending June 2018. A total of 103 people aged under 24 were killed by sharp objects in the year ending March 2018, compared to just 58 in 2012-13.

So far this year, 19 people have been killed in knife-related attacks across Britain, according to the UK’s Press Association.

Britain’s government is under pressure to stem what has been described as a “national crisis.” Prime Minister Theresa May faced a backlash on Monday after rejecting claims that years of steep cuts to police forces had contributed to the rising number of knife attacks.

“I am aghast at what the Prime Minister had to say about police numbers – that there is no correlation between the number of police and the amount of crime. Of course there is otherwise why would we have police at all,” former chief prosecutor for North West of England, Nazir Afzal, told the BBC’s Newsnight program.

John Apter, the national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said the consequences of stripping Britain’s police force was “clear.”

“Splashed across newspaper front pages and TV news bulletins: children being murdered on our streets,” Apter said, according to PA. “This is the true cost of austerity that we warned of, but were ridiculed for doing so.”

In the year ending March 2018, fatal stabbings in England and Wales reached their highest level since records began more than 70 years ago. In the same period, 36.5% of all knife offenses – almost 15,000 – occurred in London, according to official statistics.

According to data from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), knife offenses in London in 2017 were predominantly male-on-male, with men representing 83% of offenders and 78% of victims in crimes that caused injury.

People from black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, which represent 43% of London’s population, made up half of all knife crime victims and offenders, MOPAC revealed, adding that half of all offenses were carried out by people under the age of 25.

Meanwhile, separate research carried out by doctors at Queen Mary University found that children were most likely to become victims of stabbings as they walk home from school. Children under 16 were significantly more likely to be stabbed between 4 and 6 p.m. on a school day than young adults between the ages of 20 and 24, the study found. Almost half of those stabbings occurred within 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) of the victim’s home.

The government isn’t the only one being criticized for its perceived failings. NHS England doctors have also accused stores of fueling the crisis by selling knives to underage individuals. “Far too many young people are able to buy knives on the high street, and we need councils and retailers to work together to stop this,” the national clinical director for trauma, Chris Moran, said.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid recently said he would introduce new prevention orders that could be imposed on children as young as 12 in an attempt to clamp down on knife crime.

Under the controversial measures, anyone suspected of regularly carrying a knife could be forced to attend knife awareness courses, abide by curfews and geographical restrictions, and have their social media access limited. Anyone who breaches the order could potentially face jail sentences of up to two years. Theresa May has also vowed to tackle the causes of knife crime by promising a cross-government response.

Read CNN’s report on what’s driving young men in Britain to knives and gangs.

CNN’s Zahid Mahmood, Matthew Robinson and Rob Picheta contributed to this story.