In a report published in late July, Save the Children denounced the exploitation of migrant children between Italy and France. The NGO said that minors, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, are being sexually exploited to pay for their safe passage into France from the Italian border.
“Little invisible slaves” was the name of the report published on July 27 by the Italian chapter of the NGO Save the Children. The document, written entirely in Italian, detailed in four chapters the reality of the exploitation of migrant children and young adults upon their arrival in Italy.
The report distinguishes between two cases of trafficking; one already organized from their country of origin and the worrying emergence of so-called “survival sex”, where girls are forced into “prostituting themselves” if they cannot afford the €50 to €150 requested fee by drivers for a lift across the border, or for food or shelter.
'Survival Sex'.. Take me to France
"Some young girls come to Italy and already have contacts. The girls are often either Nigerian or Romanian. In such cases, trafficking is organized from their country of origin. However, there is also a growing number of young Eritrean or Somali women, who are forced into prostitution in northern Italy in order to pay the fee the smugglers ask for crossing into France or Austria (less common). This is what we call 'survival sex'," Francesmi Bocchino, head of child protection at Save the Children Italy, told InfoMigrants.
Bocchino expressed great concern over the figures of victims of sexual exploitation. The NGO reached out to almost 1,900 minors, of which 160 are children. “These numbers are only the visible part of the problem. What worries me is the ‘invisible’ flow of the vulnerable children in transit through Italy,” she said.
“Most girls arriving in Italy are underage. However, under the pressure of the traffickers, they tell the authorities that they are 18 or 20 years old, hence losing their child protection rights which leaves them to the mercy of the traffickers. We also observed that victims often change their places of stay, making it extremely difficult for us to keep tracking them. This is why we speak of the invisible side of the problem and why it is merely impossible to have an exact number for victims,” Bocchino added.
4,570 minors 'not found'
As of May 31, 2018, Save the Children has counted some 4,570 "untraceable" minors in total, who "abandoned the shelters in which they were placed in", particularly in the southern regions of Italy. According to the NGO’s data, they are mainly Eritrean (14%), Somali (13%), Afghan (10%), Egyptian (9%) and Tunisian (8%) minors.
Several minors decide to leave the child protection system "a few days after their registration" because they see it as "an unnecessary slowdown to the economic autonomy they aspire to," Save the Children’s report mentions.
"These minors often trust their peers or members of their community only. It is very difficult to establish a relationship of trust that will allow us to follow up with them and make sure they are protected from trafficking," Bocchino said.
Although networks of sexual exploitation mainly target female minors, it does not spare males completely. Bocchino said that in 2017, they observed a rise in the cases of sexual exploitation among young boys, who often turned out to be Egyptians. However, the numbers decreased in 2018 since the number of Egyptians arriving in Italy has gone down.
'We need European cooperation'
Underage boys present an opportunity of cheap labor and often find themselves as victims of the agricultural sector. "We observe this in the northern region, because young boys are motivated by the idea of making money to continue their migration route. However, we also found such cases in southern Italy, especially in the region of Calabria," Bocchino told InfoMigrants.
With this report, the NGO hopes to shed a light on the vulnerability of unaccompanied minors and young adults arriving in Italy. "Now we need European cooperation on this," Bocchino added.
Save The Children's report came out shortly after an Oxfam report in June accused French border police of illegally returning migrant children to Italy. According to Oxfam, at least 16,500 migrants (a quarter of whom are children) crossed the French-Italian border through the city of Ventimiglia between July 2017 and April 2018. A figure posed to increase further during the summer.