child abuse paedophilia
Roma children are believed to have been forced into prostitution for at least a decade in Govanhill iStock

Roma children have been forced into prostitution in one of the poorest areas of the UK for years because police and council authorities did not want to appear culturally insensitive or racist, according to reports.

Children, some of whom are believed to be primary school aged, are being sold for sex by their own families in Govanhill, south Glasgow, in what is thought to be a "longstanding issue".

The allegations were first reported a decade ago, but local residents have claimed the issue has re-emerged, with Roma boys and girls appearing to "openly tout themselves in public", according to the Times.

It is suggested that authorities chose to "turn a blind eye" to the allegations due to "cultural sensitivities" and fears of being branded racist, similar to what happened with the child abuse cases in Rochdale and Rotherham

In 2014, a damning report by Professor Alexis Jay revealed how more than 1,400 children suffered "horrific" abuse at the hands of paedophile gangs over a 16-year period in Rotherham, with a majority of the perpetrators being men of Pakistani origin.

The report highlighted a series of collective failures which resulted in the abuse going undetected, including how police wanted to "play down" the "ethnic dimensions" of the sexual exploitation, for fear of being labelled racist.

Olive Arens, the chief executive of Up-2-Us, a charity that works with vulnerable teenagers in Glasgow, claimed police told her the allegations about the Roma children were an "urban myth" when she first raised them.

She told the Times: "The sexual exploitation of Roma children in Govanhill is a longstanding issue. You could see the activity. It was children and adults making deals in huddles. It is very clear what was taking place but nothing ever happened to stop it."

"Some people don't want to speak out in case they are accused of being racist. I understand that wariness but I don't have that worry."

Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon Sturgeon, whose constituency office is in Govanhill, described the allegations as "deeply concerning".

A spokesperson for Sturgeon added: "Govanhill, like many areas, faces specific challenges and it is important that all sections of the community are included and involved in addressing those challenges."

A spokesman for Glasgow city council said: "We are fully alert to the risk of child sexual exploitation in Glasgow. This is a form of abuse that can take place in all parts of the city and be found within all communities, regardless of ethnicity.

"We will continue to ensure all of our policies, procedures and practices are as robust as possible to ensure we do everything we can to divert vulnerable young people away from harm."

Detective Superintendent Alwyn Bell, of Police Scotland, said: "Glasgow child protection committee and the numerous statutory and voluntary agencies represented have robust, well-established child protection procedures.

"Child sexual exploitation is a constant threat within our communities and an area all partners are alert to. As a partnership, we constantly review our procedures in an attempt to continuously improve our services and learn from good practice elsewhere."