A new report by Save The Children Italy revealed that in 2020, the national anti-trafficking system had 2,040 victims of trafficking in its care, 716 of whom were new cases that emerged during the year. The majority of cases are women, and Nigeria was the leading country of origin.
It is estimated that over one in three trafficking victims (34%) in the world are minors, predominantly female.
Although this percentage only represents officially registered cases within a much larger phenomenon, the number has more than tripled in the last 15 years.
The number is even higher in low-income regions such as sub-Saharan and Western Africa, South Asia, Central America and the Caribbean, where minors are half of the total confirmed victims.
The trafficking problem also affects Italy, where the Italian national anti-trafficking system had a total of 2,040 registered cases in 2020, 716 of whom emerged during the year. These figures were included in a new report by Save the Children Italy, titled "Little Invisible Slaves".
The majority of the victims, 81.8%, were women and girls, with one in 20 of the victims, or 105 in all, underage.
Countries of origin
Among the countries of origin of the victims, Nigeria prevails (72.3%), followed by the Ivory Coast, Pakistan, Gambia and Morocco.
The most-reported form of exploitation is sexual (78.4%), followed by labor (13.8%), with 1% involved in illegal economies and 0.6% in begging.
A particularly alarming element concerns women victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation who are mothers with minor children, where the children are often also in the hands of exploiters and traffickers.
The number of cases of former or current victims with children almost doubled between 2016 and 2020. The total number of these cases handled by Italy's anti-trafficking system rose from 6% to 11.6%, with a further increase of 0.4% in the first six months of 2021. The anti-trafficking system is currently assisting 190 vulnerable families, including 226 minors.
Even in the field of labor exploitation in the agricultural sector, particularly in the south, there are cases of women who live alone with their children, mainly from Eastern Europe. These women are subjected to blackmail, violence and abuse, forced into a circuit of isolation that also affects their children, irreparably compromising their future.
Victims of a circuit of violence
"The children of the victims of trafficking and exploitation are often prisoners, with their mothers, of a circuit of violence, blackmail and abuse that must be broken at all costs," said Raffaela Milano, Save the Children's Italy-Europe Programmes Director.
"Their mothers are women, including very young mothers, who carry on their skin a repeated series of early violations suffered, in many cases, already in their countries of origin, in situations of extreme material poverty and social deprivation. Even here in Italy they face the worst conditions of exploitation. We need to strengthen and support their means of escape from exploitation," Milano said.
The report's analyses of girls who are victims of trafficking and exploitation brought to light an extreme aspect of violence, which in many cases affects their children.
Children, generally very young and sometimes born from the abuses suffered by young mothers, not only witness the violence perpetrated on their mothers but themselves risk being subjected to violence at the hands of exploiters and traffickers or being blackmailed to keep their mothers subjugated.
"Little Invisible Slaves" also highlights the serious consequences for mothers and children in agricultural labor exploitation, where they live in informal settlements isolated from urban centers and services.
Save the Children Italy launched its New Paths project in April 2021 to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable mother-child units, in cooperation with the Anti-Trafficking Hotline and the Department of Equal Opportunities.
In its first two months alone, it supported 50 units, primarily women of Nigerian origin, eight of whom were pregnant, as well as 69 minors, 49 of whom were born in Italy and currently under 3 years of age.