A CHILDREN’S charity has warned that child sexual exploitation is widespread in Scotland ahead of the expected announcement of a Scottish Government national action plan.
Barnardo’s said Scotland should be very concerned about child sex abuse, warning that determined perpetrators will abuse a large number of children and must be stopped.
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Education Secretary Mike Russell will give a statement to parliament on child protection today, which is widely expected to contain a commitment to a national action plan.
Labour said the government must go further and hold a full public inquiry.
But Barnardo’s told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme that an inquiry could take years if it examines the “absolutely enormous” range of offences in Scotland.
Director Martin Crewe said: “I think we should be very concerned.
“Barnardo’s Scotland first raised this in the Scottish Parliament in a petition in 2011, and so we are delighted that this has come through today to what we understand is the announcement of a national action plan.”
Police Scotland has said systematic sexual abuse of children on the scale exposed in Rotherham is “absolutely not” happening in Scotland, but said there has been a large number of child rapes and hundreds of convictions for child sexual exploitation in the last year.
This was echoed today by Barnardo’s, who said child abuse is widespread, and does include organised abuse, but not of the exact nature seen in Rotherham.
Mr Crewe added: “We are certain that there is widespread child abuse but what we don’t know is the exact nature and prevalence of it.
“I don’t think that the exact nature of Rotherham is happening in Scotland now.
“What we are seeing with child sexual exploitation is a wide range of problems, from an unfortunate relationship between, say, a 19-year-old male and a 14-year-old girl right through to organised abuse.”
He continued: “We know that a determined perpetrator will abuse a large number of children.
“We have to get in there and not just pick up the pieces. We’re working with the police, for instance, to identify perpetrators early and to really bring them to account.”
He said any public inquiry should balance the need to investigate historic abuse in institutions with calls for a wider examination of abuse in foster care or in the home.
“We need to be clear what the parameters are because this could be absolutely enormous and take years to come to fruition,” he said.
But Labour justice spokesman Graeme Pearson said the government should not be constrained by the scale of the problem.
“No matter what a challenge it provides to us, if we can’t look after the most vulnerable and the innocent amongst us then it’s time to put the light out,” he said.
“If we have a public inquiry we begin to hear the voices, there will be ways that we can ensure that the right people are in charge of these residential establishments.
“There will be a way to ensure that the children who are cared for within these establishments - when they raise issues something is done about it.”
Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said: “What we need to get from the Scottish Government today is that they recognise the severity of the situation.
“I hope that we will see the publication of a national action plan so that children in Scotland will know when they will be safe.”
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