Risks for Women and Children

The passage to Europe is especially dangerous for women and children.

Many women and children suffer physical abuse during their journey, such as torture, rape and enslavement, as well as other forms of psychological abuse.

Irregular migration is particularly dangerous for women and girls. Smugglers often try to force women to pay for services with sexual favours. A 2017 study by UNICEF showed that women and children had to rely on pay-as-you-go schemes with smugglers (where the full cost of the journey is paid either on route or at the destination) and often ended up in debt, becoming even more vulnerable to abuse and trafficking. The study also found that almost half of the migrant women and children surveyed in Libya reported having suffered sexual violence and abuse on their journey.

Once they arrive in Europe, many women say they face high levels of harassment and abuse

while staying in reception centres, detention facilities and other temporary accommodation.

The specific needs of vulnerable female migrants, are often not addressed. For example, pregnant women struggle to access healthcare and get regular check-ups. Unhygienic living conditions also increase the risk of complications for pregnant women.

Child migrants are even more vulnerable during irregular migration journeys. There are many recorded cases of death, abuse and exploitation of children on route to Europe. An IOM survey of over 4,700 migrants in Italy, showed that 77% of children said they had been held against their will, mostly in Libya.

Once unaccompanied minors reach Europe, a substantial number go missing. There are concerns that these children might be the victims of criminal organisations and could be at risk of sexual and labour exploitation.

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