UNICEF report shows unaccompanied child migrants up five-fold

Ebony Scott
May 19, 2017

UNICEF said 170,000 of those children sought asylum in Europe in 2015-2016, many after making the treacherous trip across the Mediterranean Sea where hundreds of children are estimated to have drowned past year.

The UN warned that this new disturbing trend led to many refugees' youngsters and migrants into prostitution and slavery.

A new report from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) shows that at least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were recorded in some 80 countries in 2015-2016, which is up from 66,000 in 2010-2011.

When they can't find opportunities to move legally, children sometimes have to resort to unsafe routes and engage smugglers to help them cross borders.

The plan says the best protection for children is efforts to keep families together, and improving access to education and health services. It's calling on all countries to uphold the rights of unaccompanied minors, abolish child refugee detention and help those on the move stay healthy and in school.

According to UNICEF, the current system is failing refugee and migrant children.

Of those children who arrived in Italy, 75% reported experiences such as being held against their will or being forced to work without pay.

Many of the Unicef report's findings echo a Harvard University study on migrant children in Greece (pdf), published by Harvard University earlier this year, which warned that "children gravitate towards unsafe and illegal activities to pay smugglers, including theft, drug dealing and transactional sex". "It is unconscionable that we are not adequately defending children from these predators", stated Mr. Forsyth.

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Those who survived the journeys recounted harrowing stories of abuse along the way, including a 17-year-old girl from Nigeria who told officials that she was raped in Libya by a man who had promised her passage to Europe.

Unaccompanied and separated children accounted for 92 per cent of all children arriving to Italy by sea in 2016 and the first months of 2017.

"The situation here in Uganda is much more dramatic in it's rawness, in its poverty and people being on the edge than what I have seen anywhere else", he said.

One migrant, 16-year-old Aimamo, said he and his twin brother were forced to work on a farm in Libya for two months to pay their smugglers.

"If you try to run, they shoot you and you die. If you stop working, they beat you", Aimamo is quoted as saying in the report.

Children make up just under 30 per cent of human trafficking victims around the world, but in Sub-Saharan Africa and Central America, that number is above 60 per cent.

Millions of children are on the move across worldwide borders mainly fleeing from violence and conflict.

Other reports by GizPress

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