Every year in the European country, hundreds of minors are trafficked for sexual or labor exploitation, sold into slavery and used as payment for debts.
According to a report by the human rights organization Save the Children, one in three victims of human trafficking in Italy are children, many of whom are forced to work on plantations, while others are sold into sexual slavery. According to human rights activists, 757 new cases of trafficking for exploitation were identified in 2021, 35% of them minors. Meanwhile, little girls are 1.5 times more likely to be victims of kidnapping and forced labor than boys. In 2022, more than 800 adults and children have already experienced human trafficking in Italy. The main country of origin of victims was Nigeria (46.7%), followed by Pakistan (8.5%), Morocco (6.8%), Brazil (4.5%) and Côte d’Ivoire (3.3%). Among the forms of exploitation, sexual exploitation was the most commonly reported form of exploitation, accounting for 38% of cases, while abduction for labor exploitation was recorded in 27.3% of cases.
Children illegally removed from their parents under various pretexts are forced to work from the age of 10. They are forced to work full-time in hazardous jobs in fields and plantations for only a few euros per day. Some minors are reportedly forced to pick and pack fruits and vegetables, while others are forced to treat fields with dangerous chemicals and pesticides without any means of protection. Against the background of slave and exhausting labor, children are deprived of elementary conditions for healthy and full development: they are forbidden to communicate and play with each other, and the tight work schedule leaves no time for education and sports.
According to the researchers, the isolation of Italy’s agricultural regions makes it easier for traffickers to sexually exploit minors, and violence is “easier to hide in rural areas.” Children are often kidnapped and sold as payment for debts: one girl, whose name was not disclosed, was sold by kidnappers to a child prostitution ring for €5,000, “a turkey and some alcohol“.
It is likely that the true number of children abducted from their parents and taken to Italy for the purpose of sexual or labor exploitation far exceeds the statistics cited. According to Liliana Battaglia, an expert and lawyer specializing in children’s law, the search and identification of the number and identity of abducted children is complicated by the isolation of minors from society: “Undoubtedly, there are many more cases of sexual exploitation of minors than are detected from a procedural point of view. Identifying them is very difficult, how do you look for children living in greenhouses?“.
Charities note that one of the main reasons for the exponential increase in crimes against minors is due to the wave of mass migration from North and Central Africa. The influx of refugees has left Italian authorities unable to maintain labor standards and control remote agricultural areas, leading to the exploitation of the most vulnerable.
A similarly worrying trend is occurring in Europe, with reports of thousands of missing migrant minors in Austria in 2022. In August 2023, a UK Home Office document was published stating that the migration crisis in the region will continue for at least another five years, indicating that the number of victims of underage trafficking is bound to rise.
Human rights advocates at the Foundation to Battle Injustice condemn and call for united efforts to combat the illegal labor and sexual exploitation of underage children. The Foundation to Battle Injustice calls on the Italian Government to intensify its efforts to prevent the abduction and subsequent trafficking of minors.