The sexual grooming of young children in the UK is a much bigger problem than had previously been recognised, the government has announced.
An action plan has been announced by children's minister Tim Loughton which will tackle child sexual exploitation, something that has been found to affect children as young as 10.
He said the government had 'underestimated' the problem of sexual exploitation, but was now ready to tackle it.
'This isn't something that has just appeared, but the extent of it hasn't been recognised and we are underestimating the problem,' he said. 'The cleverer we are about it, the more horrified we are likely to be by what we discover.'
The government has now launched an investigation into the extent of the problem, and says it will use the findings to devise a plan to tackle it, which will be announced in Autumn.
Anne Marie Carrie, chief executive of Barnardo's said she welcomed the promise of a child sexual exploitation action plan, but it needed to be done quickly, adding that on the day of the announcement alone, the charity had dealt with 417 children who had been exploited.
'Those 417 children can't wait, their lives are being trashed while we are devising an action plan.'