The vast majority of children in this country grow up safe from harm. However, the Barnardo’s report “Puppet on a string: the urgent need to cut children free from sexual exploitation”, published in January, emphasised that children are being sexually exploited here and now. It showed that this appalling form of child abuse is more prevalent than most people have appreciated.
It is clear that this abuse can be perpetrated by individuals from all sections of society. It can affect boys, girls, older and younger children, from stable and affluent homes as well as from less advantaged backgrounds, in urban and rural communities. It has a devastating and lasting impact, both on the children and young people who suffer from it and on their families.
The Barnardo’s report called for a national action plan to tackle child sexual exploitation. As Minister responsible for children and families, I asked my officials to lead the development of such an action plan and I am very pleased to be publishing it later today. I am grateful to the many national and local organisations, and other Government Departments, which have contributed to it over the last few months, particularly the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Minister with responsibility for crime and security, the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire) and colleagues in the Home Office.
The action plan was developed in the context of the Munro review of child protection. Like Professor Eileen Munro’s final report, and the Government’s response to her review, the action plan emphasises the important role of Local Safeguarding Children Boards in ensuring that local multi-agency arrangements are in place to help and protect children and young people. The action plan is similarly child-centred, trying to see sexual exploitation from the point of view of the child or young person, as he or she goes through the different stages which might occur.
Child sexual exploitation is horrific and has no place in this, or any other, society. It is a serious crime and must be treated as such, with the perpetrators pursued more rigorously. We can only tackle it successfully by looking at every aspect of the problem: raising awareness and understanding; effective prevention and detection; securing robust prosecutions; and improving support for victims and their families. The action plan does that, bringing together for the first time actions already being taken and actions which will be taken forward in the future. Much work is currently under way and more will take place over the coming months.
Nothing is more important than keeping children and young people safe. Today’s action plan is an important step forward but there is a long way to go. I am determined that everything which can be done is done to make our children safer from sexual exploitation.
I have placed copies of the action plan in the Libraries of both Houses.