British Sikh girls being targeted by Pakistani-origin grooming gangs for sexual abuse and exploitation over the years have not received full attention of the authorities due to political correctness, claims a new report released on Monday.
The 'Religiously Aggravated Sexual Exploitation of Young Sikh Women Across the UK' report, collated by the Sikh Mediation And Rehabilitation Team (SMART) and Sikh Youth UK, received the backing of parliamentarians as it called for an investigation into the pattern of abuse dating back decades.
"Since the early nineteen-eighties, evidence collated by British Sikh organisations has recorded cases of sexual abuse and exploitation against young Sikh females by grooming gangs populated by perpetrators of primarily Pakistani or Muslim heritage," the report noted.
"Although not exclusively, offences are documented as regularly being committed within the structure of networks, including the nuclear and extended family members of offenders. This has in turn prompted questions surrounding whether young Sikh females are victims of opportunists or being targeted due to their religious heritage," it said.
The researchers are keen to highlight that the study was not undertaken as a "witch-hunt against any individual, community, culture or faith" but as a means to provide some "clear understanding and acceptance" of key factors contributing to the risk.
Among the factors influencing the trend, the report flagged that some early Sikh migrants claim the organised targeting of Sikh females was conducted, in part, as "retaliation" for the involvement of Sikh soldiers in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.
It also documents a string of recent high-profile prosecutions of Pakistani-origin grooming gangs who targeted white British schoolgirls in areas such as Rochdale and Rotherham.
"With the emergence of multiple similar cases across the UK, the perceived failure to act has now been attributed to the 'political correctness' that inhibited authorities and agencies from addressing the racial and cultural dimensions understood as causative factors behind the abuse," the report noted.
It added: "Many within the Sikh community have advocated that it is of the utmost importance that British justice operates on a level playing field.
"However, where it is clear that a child is at threat or targeted for abuse due to their race or religion, it is essential that the recording and prosecution of cases reflects all aspects surrounding the abuse."
Veteran Indian-origin Labour Party MP Virendra Sharma welcomed the findings that would help tackle the wider issue of child abuse by ensuring that while police are sensitive, they act "effectively" to prevent any immediate risk.
"Steps to end the stigma of reporting abuse and end the culture of silence, referred to in the report, are key but will require many years of difficult intervention. I will be pleased to support steps to end any systematic targeting and this report is a key step in that fight," said Sharma, who represents the west London constituency of Ealing Southall with a large British Sikh population.
His views were echoed by fellow Labour Party MP Sarah Champion, who has been very vocal over the issue of child sexual grooming as many Pakistani-origin men from her constituency of Rotherham were jailed for sexual abuse and rape of schoolgirls.
She said: "When I first heard about the specific targeting of Sikh girls for abuse I was shocked. Having met survivors, I know the long-term devastation to the girls, their families and the Sikh community as a whole.
"I support the call for an inquiry into this form of sexual exploitation and how it has been able to go on for so long unchallenged by government agencies." The issue hit the headlines in recent weeks as six British Pakistanis were sentenced to a total of 101 years behind bars last month for sexually grooming and abusing young girls in the northern England town of Rotherham.
UK home secretary Sajid Javid, himself of Pakistani origin, had taken to Twitter to condemn the "sick Asian paedophiles" and attracted some backlash for singling out a particular community.
On Monday, he defended his comments once again, saying: "Any normal person looking at the recent convictions of gangs that abuse children would have noticed that a vast majority are from a Pakistani heritage and we cannot ignore that."
"If you do ignore that, if you sit in a position of power like me and you ignore that, what you actually end up doing is fuelling the voices of extremism that are out there that will then prey on that," he added.
The UK Home Office said child sexual abuse has been categorised as a "national threat", with the government investing millions of pounds to enable officers to actively seek out and bring offenders to justice.
"Group-based child sexual exploitation is a complex issue and the government is working to improve our understanding of how to prevent this heinous crime," a statement said.