The coronavirus lockdown has created a “perfect storm” for many children isolated with their abusers, ex-home secretary Sajid Javid has said.
Writing in the Telegraph, he said this will contribute to a “surge” in cases.
He said he will lead a new “no holds barred” inquiry into child sex abuse in the UK with the Centre for Social Justice think tank.
The inquiry will examine organised child sexual exploitation and the abuse of children online.
It comes after Home Secretary Priti Patel announced last month that the government will publish a paper “later this year” on research into group-based child sexual exploitation, which was commissioned by Mr Javid when he was home secretary in 2018.
Mr Javid told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that something that “weighed the most heavily on him” during his time as home secretary in 2018 and 2019 was child sexual abuse and its “true scale”.
He said he was “particularly concerned” about lockdown because “children are left to isolate alongside their abuser and they will therefore suffer severe long-term damage and this kind of thing isn’t reflected in statistics just yet, but it will be, and I’m very concerned about that”.
The former chancellor said the investigation into will look at organised child sexual exploitation, including gangs and on-street grooming.
The second part of the inquiry will examine how child sexual abuse “happens today”, with a focus on online abuse and live streaming.
Of the gang-based exploitation, Mr Javid said: “We know that of all these high profile cases when there have been convictions, a disproportionate number of people are from Asian heritage, particularly Pakistani heritage, my own heritage and that both saddens and angers me.
“People from my heritage, many of them disproportionately responsible for what we’ve seen and I want to know know why.”
He said in the past there had been an “ignorance” of this in some authorities.
Writing in the Telegraph, Mr Javid said: “The surge in child sexual abuse happening right now won’t be reflected in statistics until later this year.
“As appalling as those numbers will be, however, they’ll still only scrape the surface of what’s been occurring under our noses for decades.”
Andy Cook, chief executive of the Centre for Social Justice think tank, said it was “highly courageous” of Mr Javid to “speak out on the issue, which has been difficult to confront and too often neglected”.
Javed Khan, chief executive of children’s charity Barndardos, said it was an “important warning” from Mr Javid that some children are trapped at home with their abusers.
In 2018, in his role as home secretary, Mr Javid ordered research into the “characteristics and contexts” of gangs abusing children, arguing that ignoring issues such as ethnicity is more likely to fuel the far-right.
He said he wanted officials researching the causes of gang-based exploitation to leave “no stone unturned”.
The review came after grooming gangs were convicted in Huddersfield, Oxford, and Rotherham.
Due to be published later this year, the paper on this review “will outline the insights gained” and will “focus on how agencies can learn lessons from the past to tackle group-based offending and safeguard vulnerable children”.