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02 Mar 2017

UN: Libya is epicentre for migrant child sex abuse

The UN has warned that Libya, from where lakhs of migrants attempt to cross the Mediterranean into Italy, has become an epicentre for migrant child sex abuse.

UNICEF's latest report 'A Deadly Journey for Children', documents how children suffer slavery, violence and sexual abuse from smugglers, traffickers and officials.

Libya's migrant detention centres are beset by chronic shortage of food, water and medical supplies.

In context

Migrant children/women suffer widespread sexual assault in Libya

Children are "brutalized, raped, killed"

"What really shocked UNICEF staff and me... is what happens to them [children] on this route," says Justin Forsyth, the organization's deputy executive director. "Many of these children have been brutalized, raped, killed on" the route from Libya to Italy.

Violence rampant

Half of all women/children African migrants experience sexual abuse

"Nearly half the women and children interviewed had experienced sexual abuse during migration," the report says. "Often multiple times and in multiple locations" as they made their way from Africa to Europe.

"Sexual violence was widespread and systemic at crossings and checkpoints," it added.

"Approximately one third [of those interviewed] indicated they had been abused in Libya."

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Nearly a third of all migrants are children

Last year, over 80,000 migrants crossed from Libya to Italy, according to the UN. Of these, nearly 26,000 were children, most of whom were unaccompanied by parents. The journey across the Mediterranean is dangerous with several boats overturning leaving thousands dead.

Officials abuse

Victims reluctant to report abuse, fear arrest/deportation

Women and children who suffer abuse are reluctant to report these incidents for fear of arrest or deportation as many of their assailants are government officials.

Most of Libya's 34 known migrant detention centres are government run.

However, "the detention centres run by militias, we're much more worried about," a UNICEF official said. "That's where a lot of abuse is happening."

Migrants sometimes forced into flesh trade to repay smugglers

Forced prostitution

Migrants sometimes forced into flesh trade to repay smugglers

The migrants are deeply dependent on smugglers to take them through Africa's desert and the Mediterranean Sea into Europe.

These smugglers are linked with human traffickers so migrants find themselves forced into prostitution to repay debts if they can't compensate smugglers.

"Libya is a major transit hub for women being trafficked to Europe for sex," the report says.

Female migrants forced to take extreme steps

Incidents of rape and sexual enslavement are so common that some female migrants who embark on the journey to Europe take precautions. This include getting contraceptive injections and carrying emergency protection.

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