A 15-year-old Newcastle schoolgirl was earning thousands of pounds as a prostitute after gaining work with an escort agency.
The girl lied about her age to the agency and worked on school nights and weekends, earning up to £14,000 in two months.
She is now being cared for by child protection agencies, but her story has raised concerns for other vulnerable young people being groomed for sexual exploitation.
The girl’s activities were only discovered when a suspicious teacher searched her bag and found condoms, a card with the name of her pimp and details of the agency.
Her parents were initially arrested for inciting child prostitution but have since been released without charge.
A 2007 report from Save the Children stated there are 5,000 child prostitutes in the UK, three quarters of them girls.
Wendy Shepherd, from the Barnardo’s Sexual Exploitation Children Outreach Services, said: “It is not unusual that young people are coerced and groomed into sexual exploitative relationships and they don’t always understand fully what is happening.”
Campaigners argue that it is the risk of such exploitation that makes a robust age of consent law so crucial.
The age of consent was first raised to 16 because of the campaigning of evangelical social reformer Josephine Butler in the late 19th century.
She was driven by a desire to end the trade in child prostitution which had become rife in the UK because girls had so little legal protection.
In November new proposals were announced by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to tighten the laws on prostitution, making it illegal to purchase sex from someone who is controlled for another person’s gain.
Anyone caught paying for sex with a woman ‘controlled for another person’s gain’ will face hefty fines and a criminal record.
The measure aims to tackle the exploitation of women by pimps and human traffickers by cutting demand.
However, in spite of earlier suggestions that the Government would ban the purchase of sex outright, in line with the Swedish system, it will still be legal for men to pay for sex with women who are acting independently.