Child Migrants to Europe Experience Violence, Abuse and Trauma

Child Migrants to Europe Experience Violence, Abuse and Trauma

Police, smugglers and other adults abuse child migrants as they travel across Europe with the majority witnessing or subjected to sexual abuse, according to a report released by Save the Children.

In the report “Wherever we go, someone does us harm”, the Save the Children points to critical lack of protection for child migrants across Europe. It said that about one in three of the children now believe that no one can help them on their journey, and some believe they are no longer able to help themselves.


The report said that child migrants are at enormous risk of sexual violence, with boys travelling alone particularly vulnerable. The children are also exploited at work during the journey and at their destination, including being recruited by smugglers for criminal and sex work. Almost two-thirds of children interviewed listed one or more incidents where they recognised or witnessed sexual abuse of a child, the Save the Child report said.

The report was prepared in collaboration with Save the Children’s Balkans Migration and Displacement Hub – an initiative working within Save the Children North West Balkans office to raise visibility of children on the move – and the University Of Sarajevo.

Save the Children Europe director Ylva Sperling said “The lack of protection at European borders has terrible consequences for children. Europe’s overwhelming emphasis on deterring arrivals means children are subjected to shocking violence by police and border guards; violence which is carried out with impunity.

“Children on the move in search of safety in Europe – who have a right to seek international protection – are often forced to rely on smugglers as their only hope to cross borders, and these smugglers abuse them as well. The EU and governments must take immediate action. They should provide refugee and migrant children with access to safe, regular and legal migration routes so that they no longer have to face the ordeals documented in this report,” the official said.

Balkans Migration and Displacement Hub Programme Director Bogdan Krasic said “These findings are striking because they show the violence in these children’s lives is so present it has become normalized. Children are exposed to all types of violence, at all times – in their countries of origin, along the journey, in the countries of transit. A migration experience that includes multiple, prolonged exposure to violence may have incomprehensible harmful effects on the development of children. This could undermine their capacity to get to know the destination countries and to integrate effectively, and undermine their ability to contribute to the cultural, social and political life of the destination countries.”

  • Likely all children who migrate using the Balkans route to cross Europe are subjected to violence which threatens their physical or emotional survival
  • According to children’s testimonies, police at the borders are the most common perpetrators, as well as smugglers they rely on to cross borders
  • Children report smugglers sometimes kill or leave children and adults in conditions they would not be able to survive on their own, and the dead bodies then remain to be seen by other children travelling on the same route
  • The deterrence and containment policies prioritised by the European Union and countries along the Balkans route are the cause of the violence
  • Inadequate and often inhumane reception conditions in prison-like camps exacerbate the suffering of children, and the lack of adequate mental health support increases the risk of harm.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here