Refugee and migrant children are "routinely suffering sexual violence, exploitation, abuse and detention across the Central Mediterranean migration route from North Africa to Italy", warns a new report by UNICEF, 'A Deadly Journey for Children'.
The Central Mediterranean route is "among the deadliest journeys in the world for children", says the report. It is a journey controlled by smugglers and traffickers who prey on the vulnerable.
25,846 children – double the number from the previous year – crossed from North Africa to Italy via the Mediterranean in 2016. Nine out of 10 of these children were unaccompanied. Over 700 children who crossed from Libya to Italy died.
Of the 122 refugees UNICEF interviewed for their report, nearly half of the women reported that they had been subject to sexual abuse or violence, often multiple times. Three quarters of the children said they had experienced violence, harassment or aggression.
Many children – who have fled violence, war and poverty at home – are detained in Libya alongside adults in overcrowded conditions, with little food and water, poor sanitation and lack of access to health care and legal assistance.