As the Number of Lone Children Fleeing to Italy Soars, New Report Reveals Brutal Child Trafficking Practices

Every day, children around the world are severely affected by crises and events which are out of their control. No one knows when, or where, the next crisis will occur. For nearly 100 years, Save the Children has been on the front lines of emergency and humanitarian responses around the world. Our Children’s Emergency Fund was established to provide assistance to children in their time of greatest need.

Media Contact
Erin Taylor 267.250.8829 (M)

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (July 29, 2016) — The number of unaccompanied children making the perilous journey to Italy from countries such as Nigeria and Egypt — often to escape war, hunger and violence — has more than doubled year-on-year, according to Italian government figures.

More than 10,500 unaccompanied children arrived in Italy by sea between January and June 2016 — more than double the number from the same period in 2015, and almost as many as there were during all of last year. These children are some of the most vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation.

The figures come as a new report is launched by Save the Children Italy, which reveals the brutal and increasingly sophisticated tactics used by traffickers to force children and young women into prostitution and hard labor, saddling them with up to $55,000 in ‘debt’ for the cost of their journeys across the Mediterranean.

The organization found that girls as young as 13, from countries like Nigeria and Romania, are being tricked into believing they will secure jobs like babysitting, waitressing or hairdressing — sometimes by their own teachers and boyfriends — but are then forced into prostitution, made to rent sidewalk space to sell sex and are subjected to physical, sexual and emotional violence.

Save the Children’s President and CEO Carolyn Miles said: "It’s shocking that in this day and age, so many vulnerable children are being subjected to this kind of violence, manipulation and exploitation."

"They make the dangerous journey to Europe on their own seeking safety and a better life, but instead find themselves trapped in a cycle of abuse. Traffickers are becoming increasingly cunning in their methods to recruit and trap children — particularly those in the most vulnerable situations — and it has to end. No child deserves a life of enslavement," Miles said.

In a series of interviews with unaccompanied child migrants and refugees, researchers found that girls are often subjected to physical and sexual violence by their handlers on their journey to Italy. There is evidence that some girls contract sexually transmitted diseases or become pregnant, in which case they are often forced to have an abortion or are eventually blackmailed with threats against their babies to ensure they don’t try to escape.

To ensure the girls — especially those from Nigeria — repay their extortionate debts, traffickers can threaten their families with violence and in some cases subject them to voodoo rituals where they are manipulated into believing that if they try to leave, they will be stricken down by madness or death.

Jessica* from Nigeria was 17 when her boyfriend convinced her to take the journey to Italy. She had no idea that when she arrived, she would have to become a sex worker to survive and pay her way. "One day I called my boyfriend’s sister who told me that I had to give their family $55,000 to pay for my trip to Italy. I found out that my aunt in Nigeria had been threatened and that my younger sister had been beaten. They threatened me with voodoo, and I was afraid."

While the majority of girls are forced into the sex trade, boys from countries like Egypt are subjected to child labor and criminal activity, like theft and drug dealing, to repay their debts. Traffickers use social networking sites such as Facebook to lure boys with the promise of a better life in Europe and the chance to help lift their families out of poverty.

In Rome, Egyptian boys are forced to work 12-hour days, seven days a week washing cars, earning around $2 per hour. Employers often refuse to pay them for weeks, claiming that they must complete an apprenticeship first. In some cases, they become victims of sexual abuse or involved in illegal activities.

In Turin, they are generally made to work more than 10 hours per day in the restaurant or construction business, and are typically paid between $220 and $330 per month.

Many boys also face violence and abuse at the hands of their employers and report feeling traumatized, according to the organization’s frontline workers.

Save the Children teams are present at every landing in southern Italy providing support to children and their families as they arrive, including legal advice. The organization also runs day and night shelters in Rome, Milan and Turin for vulnerable refugee and migrant children, and has launched a multi-lingual helpline to provide assistance to migrant children. Save the Children works across the refugee route in Europe supporting and protecting children, as well as in their countries of origin, from Niger to Syria.

Save the Children gives children in the United States and around the world a healthy start, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We invest in childhood — every day, in times of crisis and for our future. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Twitter Facebook Pinterest Google+ More