UNICEF says 1.5 million kids fleeing Ukraine at risk of trafficking, exploitation

The United Nations Children’s Fund says the threat of child trafficking and exploitation is “real and growing” as more than 1.5 million kids have fled Ukraine following Russia’s attacks. According to the agency, a child becomes a refugee of the war nearly every second.

“The war in Ukraine is leading to massive displacement and refugee flows — conditions that could lead to a significant spike in human trafficking and an acute child protection crisis,” UNICEF’s Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia said in a statement Saturday.

Between February 24 and March 17, more than 500 unaccompanied children were identified crossing from Ukraine into Romania, but the amount of separated children fleeing is probably much higher, UNICEF reported. The United Nations said more than 3 million people in total had fled Ukraine within 20 days.

UNICEF reports that separated children are “especially vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation.”

A recent study conducted by UNICEF and the Inter-Agency Coordination Group Against Trafficking found that 28% of identified global trafficking victims are children. UNICEF officials said they believe Ukrainian children make up an even higher proportion of the global percentage due to children and women representing nearly all of those fleeing from Ukraine.

UNICEF encourages the governments of countries welcoming refugees to strengthen their child protection screenings at border crossings, while putting emphasis on neighboring countries of Ukraine. The agency also urges governments and child protection authorities in different countries to collaborate across borders and implement more screening at shelters and other locations where refugees tend to gather and travel through.

“Children fleeing the war in Ukraine need to be screened for their vulnerability as they cross into a neighboring country,” Khan said. “Every effort should be made to strengthen screening processes at refugee border crossings.”

The U.N. Migration Agency Mission in Ukraine is asking for monetary donations to deliver assistance to refugees fleeing Ukraine, as well as those who have been displaced in the country.

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