Child protection officers are being presented with up to 13 new child sex abuse cases every day, it has emerged.
New figures reveal that between 2011 and September this year, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre passed on 10,434 cases of child sexual exploitation to police officers in Scotland to investigate.
At its peak during 2013, evidence of sex crime, including online abuse, was being handed to police at a rate of 13 cases a day.
The statistics have been labelled “grave” and “extremely worrying” by experts.
The revelations come just days after education minister Mike Russell MSP announced taxi drivers, hotel staff and other night workers are to be issued with guidance on how to spot child sex abuse.
The Scottish Government is preparing to launch a public inquiry following the publication of a report by the charity Children in Scotland, which warned the country lacks a “confident and competent workforce for protecting children”.
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Figures uncovered through a Westminster parliamentary question revealed that, during 2011, more than 1,100 leads were passed to UK police forces, which increased to 1,927 in 2012.
In 2013, that soared to 4,875. There have been 2,519 cases in the first nine months of 2014.
Lucy Morton, manager of the NSPCC’s Glasgow service centre, said: “The large number of children at risk of sexual exploitation is a matter of grave concern.
“Children who are abused or sexually exploited need to be listened to, believed and supported.”
Last month, Police Scotland announced the setting up of a National Child Abuse Investigation Unit to improve specialist intelligence-gathering and co-ordinate investigations.
Brian Docherty, chairman of the Scottish Police Federation, warned that the volume of work faced by the unit may have a negative impact on frontline policing.
He said: “Resources have to come from somewhere and if that’s going to have to come from 24/7 response police, it is a concern for all of us.”
Detective Chief Superintendent Lesley Boal, head of public protection for Police Scotland’s Specialist Crime Division, said: “The National Child Abuse Investigation Unit will deliver an enhanced specialist response that will support our 14 local policing divisions.”
In Scotland, allegations of historical abuse have been made by former care home residents from Nazareth House in Aberdeen, Roman Catholic Fort Augustus School on the banks of Loch Ness and Larchgrove boys home in Glasgow.
A 2007 report, by Tom Shaw, a former chief inspector of education and training in Northern Ireland, estimated around 1,000 children were abused in Scots care homes from 1950 to 1995.
The inquiry is also expected to examine allegations involving the late Conservative MP, Nicholas Fairbairn.
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