Inquiry into gangs child sex abuse
A two-year investigation is being launched into the plight of thousands of children who are sexually exploited by street gangs.
The probe, which will be led by the deputy Children's Commissioner Sue Berelowitz, is to examine the extent of the problem in England.
Current figures suggest up to 10,000 youngsters could be subject to sexual abuse by gangs or other groups.
However, initial research carried out for the Office of the Children's Commissioner has suggested that this figure could be much higher.
Ms Berelowitz has already said that existing data is inadequate and the full extent of this type of abuse is unknown.
Maggie Atkinson, Children's Commissioner for England, said the inquiry would be "a wake-up call for us all".
The investigation team will gather evidence from police and local authorities as well as health and youth justice workers until early next year, before publishing an interim report in July. More information will then be gathered the following autumn into early 2013, and the final report will be released in September that year.
Concerns have already been raised this year about a lack of action over the sexual abuse of children. Leading children's charity Barnardo's warned in August that parents and professionals were missing telltale signs of youngsters being groomed for sex.
And in June the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre published damning research which found that two-thirds of Local Safeguarding Children Boards were not meeting national guidelines and have failed to put in place "basic processes" to stop sexual abuse.
Rebecca Einhorn, from the NSPCC's Street Matters project, said: "Many girls' lives are seriously damaged by gangs who run this type of grooming. It is a corrosive problem that needs serious research and action to help those affected. But hopefully this inquiry will give us a clearer picture of just how big the problem is and help those working in the field find solutions to protect these vulnerable children."