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'Vulnerable to abuse': Children account for almost one-third of trafficking victims

Some boys fail to come forward for help due to gender stereotypes, Unicef has said.

Refugees being rescued by the Italian Coast Guard after a boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea in April.
Refugees being rescued by the Italian Coast Guard after a boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea in April.
Image: Ropi/Zuma Press/PA Images

CHILDREN ACCOUNT FOR almost one-third of human trafficking victims, according to new figures.

Approximately 28% of identified victims of trafficking globally are children, Unicef and the Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking (ICAT) said today.

However, they believe the actual figure could be much higher as few people come forward because they are afraid of their traffickers, lack information about their options and mistrust authorities.

Across regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa, Central America and the Caribbean, the figure jumps to over 60%. People who are trafficked often end up in forced labour or sexual slavery.

In a statement released on the eve of World Day against Trafficking in Persons, Unicef and ICAT said refugee, migrant and displaced children are especially vulnerable to trafficking.

“Whether they are escaping war and violence or pursuing better education and livelihood opportunities, too few children find pathways to move regularly and safely with their families.

“This increases the likelihood that children and their family members will turn to irregular and more dangerous routes, or that children will move on their own, leaving them more vulnerable to violence, abuse, and exploitation by traffickers.”

‘Additional challenges for boys’

Unicef said trafficking victims need long-term assistance, rehabilitation and protection – something that is often lacking. Executive Director Henrietta Fore called on governments to urgently “step up and put measures in place to keep them safe”.

The statement notes that children who have been trafficked are often placed in inadequate shelters, where they risk further traumatisation and re-victimisation.

“Trafficked boys can face additional challenges, as gender stereotypes can prevent them from getting or seeking the help they need, while girls may also be at risk of further exploitation and abuse due to gender discrimination and gendered poverty,” it adds.

Unicef, ICAT and the United Nations children’s agency have all called for cross-border solutions to keep children safe, such as accelerating refugee status determinations and addressing obstacles that prevent children from reuniting with their families.

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Órla Ryan

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