Lone child migrants in Greece and other parts of Europe are selling themselves to people smugglers in order to pay for their onward travel to countries such as the UK, according to a new report from researchers at Harvard University.
Report authors Dr Vasileia Digidiki and Professor Jacqueline Bhabhathe found the average price of a sexual transaction with a migrant child is €15, and that the largest group of children selling sex are Afghani boys, along with Syrians, Iraqis and Iranians.
The researchers noted that at these prices, it is nearly impossible for children to earn the money they need to pay traffickers to move closer to their desired destination. People smugglers often charge many thousands of euros for safe passage to northern European countries.
Sources told the academics the purchasers of sex with unaccompanied child migrants are typically men over the age of 35, with abusers much older than this happy to provide vulnerable minors with food and shelter in exchange for sex.
Speaking with the Guardian, Digidiki called on the international community to do more to help child migrants in Europe: “This emergency can no longer be ignored. We can no longer sit idle while migrant children are abused and forced to sell their bodies in broad daylight and plain sight in the heart of Athens simply to survive.
“It is our responsibility as human beings to face this emergency head on and take immediate action at every level to put an end to this most heinous violation of dignity and human rights.”
The UN agency noted that the actual number of migrant minors who have died attempting to cross from North Africa to Italy was almost certainly much higher, as many deaths are not reported.
Almost 37,000 refugees and migrants have reached Italy by crossing the Mediterranean since the beginning of 2017, 13% of whom were children. People smugglers often offer cut-price deals for children travelling with adults, but many minors attempt to reach Europe alone.
The number of unaccompanied children attempting to reach Europe by sea from North Africa has risen dramatically this year. Unicef said 1,875 arrived in Italy during the first two months of 2017 alone, which represents a 40% year-on-year increase over the same period last year.
“It is deeply concerning that vulnerable people, including thousands of children, are risking their lives to reach Europe’s shores using this incredibly dangerous route,” said Afshan Khan, Unicef Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe.
“This is further evidence that when safe and legal pathways to migration are cut off, desperate children and families will do whatever they can to flee conflict, poverty and depravation.”