African migrant children face highest risk of abuse: U.N. report

A new UN report has revealed that migrant and refugee children and youth trying to reach Europe face appalling levels of human rights abuses, with 77 percent of those travelling along the Central Mediterranean route reporting direct experiences of abuse, exploitation, and practices which may amount to human trafficking.

NORTHERN ITALY (RECENT) (UNICEF) – Migrant children trying to reach Europe face beatings, forced labour and sexual exploitation, with sub-Saharan African children facing the highest risks, in part stoked by racism, a report found on Tuesday (September 12).

Seventeen-year-old Joy was trafficked from Nigeria to Italy with the promise of a job to help her escape poverty at home.

Joy and other migrants made the risky journey to Italy by sea.

When she arrived in Italy she was forced into prostitution instead to pay her smugglers a debt of about 23,000 US dollars.

Joy was later rescued by an organization that helps victims of trafficking.

“She (her trafficker) told me that I was going to help her being a stylist (hair stylist). So when I got here, she took me to a street and told me that I should put on my panties and bra and I should start walking on the road,” she said.

Up to three quarters of children face abuse, exploitation and trafficking on Mediterranean migration routes, a joint report by the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF and its migration agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), found.

The voyage from North Africa, primarily Libya, across the Central Mediterranean to Italy and the route between Turkey and Greece known as the Eastern Mediterranean route have become the two most common paths to Europe, but many migrants make the perilous journey each year.

While all migrants and refugees are at high risk, children and youths on the move are far more likely to experience exploitation than adults over 25, while children from sub-Saharan Africa were found to be most vulnerable.

“She told me that I am going to stand there, start waving at any car that is passing. That is prostitution,” said Joy.

About 83 percent of children from sub-Saharan Africa trying to reach Europe through Libya were at risk of exploitation and trafficking compared to around 56 percent of those from elsewhere, with racism a significant contributing factor behind the discrepancy, the report found.

The global number of refugee and migrant children moving around alone has reached a record high, with at least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children recorded in about 80 countries in 2015-2016, up from 66,000 in 2010-2011, the report said.

In a separate report published on Monday, the IOM said they had recorded more than 23,000 migrant deaths and disappearances globally since 2014.

With the real number likely to be much higher, the report found, as many deaths go unrecorded or bodies are never found or able to be identified.