More than three out of four of migrants aged 14-24 report being subjected to forced labor, sexual abuse and other forms of exploitation while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to Italy, the United Nations' children's and migration agencies said in a report Tuesday.
Children from central and southern Africa face more abuse, including discrimination and racism, relative to young migrants from other places, UNICEF and the International Organization for Migration said in the report, "Harrowing Journeys."
Among its recommendations are for European Union authorities to set up "legal migration pathways" for children and youths to reach the continent and to seek alternatives to the detention of young people caught immigrating illegally.
The report was based on accounts from some 22,000 migrants and refugees, about half of them children and youths. It says 77 percent of respondents between the ages 14 and 24 reported having experienced exploitation — defined as abuse or violence that benefits the perpetrator — that could take the form of sexual exploitation, captivity, forced labor, child marriage, and violence and abuse.
The U.N. migrant agency recently noted a sharp drop-off in crossings on the dangerous sea route between Libya and Italy, where nearly 2,400 people have died so far this year while making the attempt. The "central route," as it is known, is by far the deadliest for migrants across the Mediterranean.
"As we see a significant drop in the numbers of people on the move across the central Mediterranean, we cannot be lulled into believing that fewer children are at risk or fewer lives are being lost," UNICEF spokeswoman Sarah Crow said.
"We are concerned that 'out of sight and out of mind' — in sometimes inaccessible areas — could mean that children and other refugees and migrants will suffer even more," Crow said. "We may not always be able to hear their stories, and their perpetrators will go unpunished."