By EurActiv.com with Reuters
Conflicts and poverty in the Middle East and Africa has forced some 1.4 million people to head to Europe, fuelling the region’s largest migrant crisis since World War Two.
According to the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF, nearly one in 200 children in the world is a refugee.
While many children are unaccompanied, others arrive in Europe with an adult who may be an abusive relative, a smuggler or trafficker, said researcher Mónica Gutiérrez, who authored the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) report.
Children rely on human smugglers, often under a “pay as you go system”, making them prone to exploitation and abuse including rape, forced labour, beatings and death, said UNICEF.
But many children arriving in the EU were not informed of their rights, how to seek asylum, or how to report abuse, Gutiérrez said.
“It’s very unlikely that a trafficked child will come forward (to the authorities),” Gutiérrez said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
She said staff working in reception centres were not properly trained to spot signs of sexual abuse, domestic violence or trafficking.
Gutiérrez said there were cases of accompanying adults being assigned as legal guardians without genetic testing or other assessments of the child’s best interest.
Child marriage was also contentious, she added, as some states will recognise the union but others will consider the marriage illegal and separate the pair.
Gutiérrez said member states must include child protection officers when processing lone migrant children, and to work towards implementing unified protocols across the region.