Vulnerable children are being sent to live in care homes in areas with high concentrations of known sex offenders, a Government minister said today.
Children's minister Tim Loughton said he will "confront" authorities who send children to different parts of the country without taking into account the danger that they will be preyed upon by sex abusers in their new neighbourhood.
And he said it was clear that ethnicity was a factor in some sex abuse cases, with gangs of men of Pakistani descent grooming teenage white girls, as well as problems involving men from central African backgrounds. He urged members of ethnic minorities not to remain silent about abuse going on within their communities.
Mr Loughton warned that predatory child sex abuse was not only an issue in big cities or northern towns like Rochdale - where a sex grooming ring was exposed earlier this year - but also affected "market towns and rural areas" throughout England.
And he cautioned that, although children in care were disproportionately likely to be victims of sex abuse, girls from "decent, loving families" were also targeted.
Mr Loughton was speaking as the Government launched new reforms to improve protection of youngsters in England's 455 children's homes.
The action comes following a report published by England's Deputy Children's Commissioner Sue Berelowitz, which revealed evidence that sex offenders are targeting children in residential care homes for "violent and sadistic" abuse.
Changes proposed today include measures to ensure children are placed in care closer to their home area, to allow police and local authorities to share information about where homes are located, and to improve methods of measuring the number of children who go missing.
There are clusters of children's homes in certain areas, particularly coastal resorts like Margate in Kent, Worthing in West Sussex and the Fylde coast in Lancashire, said Mr Loughton.
And he told the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee: "We have examples of heatmaps where there is a large concentration of children in homes or foster care alongside a large concentration of known sex offenders, sex offenders' hostels, people out of prison on licence - a lot of vulnerable children in an area which I would find it very hard to justify as safe, let alone safer than the areas from which the children have come."
Thanet North MP Sir Roger Gale claimed that on one road in Margate, children in care were living "cheek by jowl" with 15 registered sex offenders.
Sir Roger told BBC Radio Kent: "There is a road that is well-known for having a number of children's homes and, at the last count that I knew about, 15 registered sex offenders were living cheek by jowl. That has got to be an explosive mixture.
"The police know about it but there is a limit to what they can do. Social services know about it, but there is a limit to what they can do and very often they are not told when children are placed out of area by a London borough. That in itself is a disgrace."
Around half of the 5,000 children in residential care at any given time are sent outside their home area, said Mr Loughton. But he admitted that guidance issued last year to reduce that number has not worked and said it was being "beefed up" to put pressure on councils to act.
Committee chairman Keith Vaz described the practice of moving youngsters, on cost-saving grounds, from one part of the country to another where they were known to be at greater risk of abuse as "official trafficking of children" and said it appeared to give an official sanction to their mistreatment.
Mr Vaz also asked the minister if there was evidence of ethnicity being a factor in child exploitation.
Mr Loughton replied: "Yes, and it is no good pretending otherwise.
"If there is some form of political correctness around ethnicity which is getting in the way of police and other agencies investigating, tracking down and nailing these perpetrators, then that needs to be removed and we need to do something about it."
He added: "There is a problem around, in most cases, British Pakistani men - there are a few cases of Afghan and Bangladeshi men involved - who, operating in gangs, are preying on mostly teenage white girls. Not exclusively, but that has been a pattern we have seen in high-profile cases.
"In other parts of the country, we have communities from central Africa who have got all sorts of other practices preying on vulnerable children as well."
Asked if the communities within which the abusers live condone their activities, Mr Loughton said: "I don't think there is any evidence that anybody condones it. What is important is how prepared or free communities are to come forward and shop it.
"I know that in certain more closed communities, people who know about this form of abuse are less inclined or feel threatened about coming forward and reporting it to the authorities.
"It is not in the interests of the British Pakistani community or the British Congolese community for these sorts of abuses to be going on by members of their own community, and it is in their interests to make sure it is reported, rooted out and the perpetrators are dealt with as criminals, which they are."