At least 289 children are estimated to have died or disappeared this year, or 11 children every week on average, attempting to cross the perilous Central Mediterranean Sea migration route from North Africa to Europe, said the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) on Friday, reported Xinhua.
Since 2018, according to UNICEF estimate, around 1,500 children have died or gone missing while attempting the Central Mediterranean Sea crossing.
This number accounts for almost one in five of the 8,274 people who have died or gone missing on the route, according to the International Organization for Migration's Missing Migrant Project records.
Many shipwrecks on the Central Mediterranean Sea crossing leave no survivors or go unrecorded, making the true number of child casualties practically impossible to verify and likely much higher, said UNICEF.
"In attempts to find safety, reunite with family, and seek more hopeful futures, too many children are boarding boats on the shores of the Mediterranean, only to lose their lives or go missing on the way," said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell in a press release. "This is a clear sign that more must be done to create safe and legal pathways for children to access asylum, while strengthening efforts to rescue lives at sea. Ultimately, much more must be done to address the root causes that make children risk their lives in the first place."
UNICEF estimates that 11,600 children — an average of 428 children a week — arrived on the shores of Italy from North Africa since January 2023. This is a two-fold increase over the same period in 2022, despite the grave risks involved for children. The majority of children depart from Libya and Tunisia, after making dangerous journeys from countries across Africa and the Middle East.
In the first three months of 2023, 3,300 children — 71 percent of all children arriving in Europe via this route — were recorded as unaccompanied or separated from parents or legal guardians, which put them at a greater risk of violence, exploitation and abuse, said UNICEF.