The world is failing to protect its children.
In war-torn regions like Syria, children’s lives are fraught with danger and violence. If they stay, they stay to watch a parade of bombs crashing down on their homes, killing their family and leaving them caked in mud, eyes glazed over with shock.
If they do make the perilous journey to a better place, they sometimes washed ashore dead, ripped away from their mourning family.
But even those who do make it, dodging death in the hostile sea, cannot guarantee a better life. According to UNICEF, 9 out of 10 children entering Europe through Italy this year are unaccompanied minors. This means that these children are even more vulnerable to abuse from predators who lurk in the streets, always on the lookout for victims.
An alarming report by Save The Children sheds light on the sickening peril refugee children face. Smugglers trap children coming from countries like Nigeria and Egypt through voodoo rituals and threats of extortion. Many girls some as young as 13 are misled and told by their "boyfriends" that they will easily be able to secure job as babysitters or hairdressers.
When they arrive, however, the reality is different.
The smugglers tell them that they have accrued debts of up to $60,000 for the cost of their journey. The girls are then forced into prostitution to pay their smugglers, and made to stand on the sidewalks in Italy selling their bodies.
Boys do not fare much better.
Many of them are lured into crime or coerced into working for drug-selling rings. It is not only the smugglers exploiting these children. Many Italian men take full advantage of the fact that many of these children have little institutional protection. Boys coming from places in North Africa realize early that there is no hope in the official reception center, where they would be forced to stay in Italy. Therefore, they leave to go out into a world that is not kind to unprotected children.
Sky News ran reports on the sleeping, homeless children who are picked by Italian men. One boy, the 16-year-old Ermias Haile, talked to the news outlet and narrated how men find them at the parks they sleep in and abuse them after buying them drinks.
"He [the Italian man] find us in a place like this and he invite us to a bar and he let us drink beer and then he take us to his home and there he give us beer," the teenager said. "We start drinking and then he start touching us on our body. After we leave the house, he calls us and he gives us money."
There seems to be no plan in place to help these children out. Although former U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron reiterated his commitment to house refugee children, the U.K. is falling short of its target to accommodate 20,000 refugee by 2020.
The world has been wonderfully kind and hospitable to many of these refugees, removing barbed fences and opening their borders for these beaten-down people. But governments need to realize that their job does not end here. They have to help these people construct a stable life for themselves.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Ismail Zetouni