0251 GMT February 22, 2018
UNICEF said 170,000 of those children sought asylum in Europe in 2015-2016, many after making the treacherous trip across the Mediterranean Sea where hundreds of children are estimated to have drowned last year, IRNA reported.
Nearly 92 percent of the boys and girls arriving by boat in Italy in 2016 and early 2017 came unaccompanied or had been separated from their relatives along the way, the report said. They came mainly from the African nations of Eritrea, Gambia, Nigeria, Egypt and Guinea, UNICEF said.
'Ruthless smugglers and traffickers are exploiting their vulnerability for personal gains, helping children to cross borders, only to sell them into slavery and forced prostitution,' UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth said. 'It is unconscionable that we are not adequately defending children from these predators.'
UNICEF said the number of recorded children traveling unaccompanied had risen nearly fivefold since 2010-2011, coinciding with a major increase in refugees worldwide. The figure includes only solo children who were registered at a border or as part of an asylum claim and the actual total is believed to be much higher.