The sexual exploitation of children in the UK is "a much bigger problem than it may appear now on our radar", the children's minister has said.
Tim Loughton said exploitation is "happening here and it is happening now".
His comments came as the children's charity Barnardo's called for the Government to create a clear national picture of how many children are at risk of sexual exploitation in the UK.
"No matter how long you stay in the job, it is difficult to credit just how much cruelty children can be subjected to," he said.
"In fact, issues like violence in the home, neglect, abuse and sexual exploitation are so cruel, and so degrading, that it's sometimes difficult for people to believe they even exist in this country. It feels like something you'd find at another place and in another age."
But he went on: "Exploitation is happening here and it is happening now. And I think it's a much bigger problem than it may appear now on our radar."
The Government's action plan to tackle the issue is expected later this summer. Mr Loughton said it was not yet possible to give details of what it would include, but he added that "improving the national picture of evidence and data" would be a "first major step" to making tackling child sexual exploitation a core part of policing.
Earlier, Barnardo's called for the Government to "pick up the pace of change so that we can act to protect those children vulnerable to abuse urgently".
Anne Marie Carrie, Barnardo's chief executive, said the action plan "must lead to a clear national picture of how many children are at risk in our communities, along with a consistent approach to protecting them supported by a robust system to ensure that this is achieved".
The charity called for measures to be taken to ensure everyone who works with children is able to spot the signs of sexual exploitation and knows how to tackle it, improving the police response and asking local authorities to make tackling child exploitation a priority.