The number of child migrants who crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Italy without family more than doubled to 25,800 in 2016, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in Geneva on Friday.
More than 90 per cent of all underage arrivals in Italy were children who traveled alone or who had become separated from their parents during the journey.
“These figures indicate an alarming trend of an increasing number of highly vulnerable children risking their lives to get to Europe,” said UNICEF emergency coordinator Lucio Melandri.
It said that most of these unaccompanied children come from Eritrea, Egypt, Gambia and Nigeria, and most of them are boys between the ages of 15 and 17.
The girls that make the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean are at risk being forced into prostitution in Libya to pay off their travel costs to people smugglers.
Governments should address the causes of child migration and should do a better job of protecting them, UNICEF said.
In particular, irregular underage migrants should not be detained, the UN agency said.