ITALY — According to a new report published by Save the Children Italy, the number of unaccompanied minors arriving in Europe’s Mediterranean region is increasing sharply. Nearly 11,000 children landed in Italy between January and June of this year. With the volume of lone children rising, the issue of child trafficking in Europe is becoming more serious than ever before.
These children, coming from countries like Nigeria, Egypt and Romania, brave treacherous seas to flee conflict, poverty and famine in hope of finding safety in Europe. According to Save the Children Italy, however, new tactics used by child traffickers put these unaccompanied youths at severe risk.
Traffickers offer girls passage to Europe for $50,000 and promise them jobs as waitresses, hair stylists or babysitters. Once there, the traffickers force them into prostitution to pay off their debt. Enslaved children suffer physically and psychologically with little chance of escape.
On the other hand, boys must pay off their debt by performing hard labor, selling drugs and stealing. Save the Children Italy discovered that Egyptian boys work 12 hours per day at a car wash for $2 per hour. In most cases, employers neglect to pay these children for weeks on end.
In both situations, smugglers sometimes threaten to harm the children’s families if they do not do as instructed, thus trapping the children in a cycle of abuse.
According to Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, “10,000 children and underage migrants have came to the bloc on their own in 2014-2015 and are unaccounted for, raising concerns that they have fallen prey to trafficking rings.” Further, their assessments suggest that the smuggling business made upwards of $5 billion last year alone. With the number of unaccompanied minors in Europe on the rise, these figures are expected to grow.
There is no doubt child trafficking is an enormously complex problem, but Save the Children and other organizations exert maximum efforts to help. Teams are on the ground at every entry point in the southern part of Italy, reaching out to children and families as they enter. In addition, the organization operates 24-hour shelters in the major cities of Rome, Milan and Turin.
A 2008 UNICEF publication recommends a multi-faceted approach to alleviating child trafficking in Europe. First, it advises police should be trained to sensitively handle victims of trafficking and uphold laws protecting victims instead of punishing them for crimes committed through the instruction of their smuggler. This way, children may feel more comfortable coming forward to police to report their kidnappers and testifying in a court of law.
Second, tighter immigration laws that help children complete safer border crossings would prevent them from being subject to human traffickers.
Third, it is suggested that labor laws are changed to be more inclusive and less restrictive to children looking for work. By expanding legal employment opportunities, the number of children who fall into the hands of traffickers who promise jobs will decrease.
With the large number of unaccompanied minors fleeing to Italy and other areas of the Mediterranean, it is extremely important that child trafficking in Europe be given more attention on the world stage. Youth everywhere deserve a life free from abuse, worry and neglect as well as the freedom to have a meaningful childhood.
– Kristina Evans