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Refugee and migrant children and women are routinely suffering sexual violence, exploitation, abuse and detention along the Central Mediterranean migration route from North Africa to Italy, UNICEF warned in a new report.

A Deadly Journey for Children: The Central Mediterranean Migrant Route’ provides an in-depth look at the extreme risks facing refugee and migrant children as they make the perilous journey from sub-Saharan Africa into Libya and across the sea to Italy. Three quarters of the refugee and migrant children interviewed as part of a survey said they had experienced violence, harassment or aggression at the hands of adults at some point over the course of their journey, while nearly half of the women and children interviewed reported sexual abuse during migration – often multiple times and in multiple locations.

Last year, at least 4,579 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Libya, or 1 in every 40 of those who made the attempt. It is estimated that at least 700 of those who lost their lives were children.

“The Central Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe is among the world’s deadliest and most dangerous migrant routes for children and women,” said Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe.

“The route is mostly controlled by smugglers, traffickers and other people seeking to prey upon desperate children and women who are simply seeking refuge or a better life. We need safe and legal pathways and safeguards to protect migrating children that keep them safe and keep predators at bay.”

Recent data in a survey of women and child migrants in Libya during late 2016 reveal the appalling level of abuse along the migration route. At the time of the survey, 256,000 migrants were recorded in Libya, including 30,803 women and 23,102 children – a third of whom were unaccompanied. The real figures, however, are believed to be at least three times higher.

“Children should not be forced to put their lives in the hands of smugglers because there are simply no alternatives,” said Khan. “We need to address globally the drivers of migration and work together toward a robust system of safe and legal passage for children on the move, whether refugees or migrants.”

You can read the full press release and download the report and other multimedia materials here.

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