Migrant and refugee children making the perilous journey to Europe to escape war and poverty face possible beatings, rape and forced labor in addition to the risk of drowning in the Mediterranean, the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, said Tuesday.
Minors account for a growing percentage of migrants and refugees, particularly those trying to reach Italy by sea from Libya, it said in a report titled "Danger Every Step of the Way."
Of the roughly 206,200 people who arrived in Europe by sea this year to June 4, one in three was a child, it said, citing figures from the U.N. refugee agency.
"Every step of the journey is fraught with danger, all the more so for the nearly one in four children traveling without a parent or guardian," UNICEF said.
That ratio was far higher on boats from Libya, where more than nine out of 10 children were unaccompanied. UNICEF said there were almost 235,000 migrants and refugees in Libya and 956,000 in the Sahel, many or most hoping to go to Europe.
UNICEF added that there was "strong evidence that criminal human trafficking networks were targeting the most vulnerable, in particular women and children.