Five-fold increase in number of refugee and migrant children traveling alone since 2010 – UNICEF

17th May 2017

Ahead of G7 and EU summits, UNICEF urges world leaders to adopt six-point plan to keep refugee children safe

“He said to me if I didn’t sleep with him he would not bring me to Europe. He raped me.” – Mary (17), from Nigeria

Note to editors: Report, photos, video and b-roll here:

DUBLIN/NEW YORK, 17 May 2017 – The global number of refugee and migrant children traveling alone has reached a record high, increasing nearly five-fold since 2010, UNICEF said today in a new report. At least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were counted in some 80 countries in the combined years of 2015 and 2016, up from 66,000 in 2010 and 2011.

‘A Child is a Child: Protecting children on the move from violence, abuse and exploitation’ presents a global snapshot of refugee and migrant children, the motivations behind their journeys and the risks they face along the way. The report shows that an increasing number of these children are taking highly dangerous routes, often at the mercy of smugglers and traffickers, to reach their destinations, clearly justifying the need for a global protection system to keep them safe from exploitation, abuse and death.

“One child moving alone is one too many, and yet there are a staggering number of children doing just that – we adults are failing to protect them,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth. “Ruthless smugglers and traffickers are exploiting their vulnerability for personal gain, helping children to cross borders, only to sell them into slavery and forced prostitution. It is unconscionable that we are not adequately defending children from predators.”

The report includes the story of Mary (17), an unaccompanied minor from Nigeria, who experienced the trauma of being trafficked firsthand on her horrific journey through Libya to Italy. When describing the smuggler turned trafficker who offered to ‘help’ her, she said, “Everything (he) said, that we would be treated well, and that we would be safe, it was all wrong. It was a lie.” Mary was trapped in Libya for over three months where she was abused. “He said to me if I didn’t sleep with him he would not bring me to Europe. He raped me.”

Key findings from the report include:

Ahead of the G7 Summit in Italy, UNICEF is calling on governments to adopt its six-point agenda for action to protect refugee and migrant children and ensure their wellbeing.

“These children need a real commitment from governments around the world to ensure their safety throughout their journeys,” said Forsyth. “Leaders gathering next week at the G7 should lead this effort by being the first to commit to our six-point agenda for action.”

The UNICEF agenda for action includes:

  1. Protect child refugees and migrants, particularly unaccompanied children, from exploitation and violence;
  2. End the detention of children seeking refugee status or migrating, by introducing a range of practical alternatives;
  3. Keep families together as the best way to protect children and give children legal status;
  4. Keep all refugee and migrant children learning and give them access to health and other quality services;
  5. Press for action on the underlying causes of large scale movements of refugees and migrants;
  6. Promote measures to combat xenophobia, discrimination and marginalisation in countries of transit and destination.

Executive Director of UNICEF Ireland, Peter Power, said today: “UNICEF Ireland is calling on the Irish government to continue to show leadership at next month’s European Council, at which leaders will revisit the issues of migration; security and defence.”

“We call on leaders to be strong, compassionate and bold in their commitments to protect children on the move.  Failure to do so will result in further unacceptable risks to children. The way we treat children affected by this crisis will have a lasting impact on their lives, and on our communities in Europe.”

UNICEF is also urging the public to stand in solidarity with children uprooted by war, violence and poverty, by supporting the six-point agenda for action.


Note to editors: download report, photos, video, b-roll here:


UNICEF is the United Nations’ organisation for children. UNICEF fights for children’s rights and promotes the well-being of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories taking practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. UNICEF has been in operation for 70 years.

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For more information, please contact:

Aedín Donnelly, Communications and Media Manager for UNICEF Ireland |  | +353 1 809 0281 | +353 85 1395272 

Christopher Tidey | UNICEF New York | +1 917 340 3017 |

Photo: Bassem Omar (20), a Syrian living at Ritsona refugee camp in Greece says: “I’m a good man, I’m reasonable. And I’m not like Bashar Assad. I told the people, ‘I want to make Ritsona great again!’”, March 2017 © UNICEF/UN057925/Gilbertson VII Photo
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