29 July 2020 - Italy

COVID-19 pushed victims of child trafficking and exploitation into further isolation: Save the Children

  • One in twenty child victims of sexual exploitation worldwide is under eight years old
  • Increase in demand for child pornography in Europe
  • Ahead of World Day Against Trafficking in Persons (Thursday 30 July 30th), Save the Children releases report on child trafficking and exploitation.
  • The COVID-19 crisis has changed the pattern of sexual exploitation, which is now operating less on the streets and more “indoors” or “online”
  • The pandemic has also jeopardised escape routes that would usually be available to many survivors  

Children make up a quarter of all victims of trafficking or exploitation, with the COVID-19 pandemic isolating victims further and making it even harder to reach them, a new report by Save the Children said today.

The 10th edition of the report “Little Invisible Slaves" highlights that of the cases of trafficking reported in 164 countries in 2019 (108,000 cases), more than 23 percent involved minors. One in twenty cases involved children under eight years old[1].

These children and adolescents are often deprived of their right to education, as ten percent of them have never been to school and about a quarter have not gone beyond middle school.

These latest numbers are in line with earlier studies, which estimated that of more than 40 million victims of trafficking or exploitation in the world, 10 million are younger than 18 years old[2].  A study based on a 2015-2016 survey by the European Commission found that of more than 20,500 recorded cases of exploitation in Europe, almost a quarter involved minors, with a high prevalence of female victims (68%)[3].

The report by Save the Children sounds an alarm about victims of trafficking and exploitation in Italy, who are even more isolated and difficult to reach than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the testimonies of field workers, victims are being subjected to increased pressure and violence from their controllers. They have often felt forced to accept lower prices from customers, whether on the road or at home or in other places.  In many cases, the encounters took place without any personal protection measures against COVID-19. In other cases, girls received incorrect information about the use of the face masks.

Often, victims were pushed off the streets into indoor prostitution, sometimes sharing an apartment with four or five other girls, where it was previously used by two girls.

The COVID-19 crisis has also changed the usual models of trafficking and exploitation. Criminal groups dedicated to sexual exploitation have been very quick to adapt their ways of working by intensifying the use of online communication and exploitation in homes. According to the European Commission, in some EU Member States the demand for child pornography has increased by up to 30% during COVID-19 lockdown[4].

At the same time, the lockdown has forced institutions and non-governmental organisations to deal with greater difficulties in prevention and support activities for victims.[5]

Raffaela Milano, Director of Italy-Europe Programmes of Save the Children in Italy, said:

"In dealing with the COVID-19 emergency we must not forget the invisible victims of trafficking and exploitation in our country. Unfortunately, traffickers have quickly managed to change the forms of sexual exploitation and have made victims even more isolated and difficult to reach.

“We need to step up the fight against child exploitation, with a particular focus on online exploitation, and intensify our work to support victims. A key aspect is the support for survivors who escape from exploitation. Many routes to re-integration for girls who had the courage to rebel against their exploiters are at risk because job placement opportunities, which are usually in sectors such as hotels or catering, have suddenly disappeared owing to COVID-19. We cannot fail to support the courage of these girls, who are exposed to serious risks of violence and retaliation.”

In Italy, among 2,033 people taken into care in anti-trafficking operations in 2019, the most widespread form of exploitation remains sexual exploitation (84.5%), which affects mainly women and girls[6] (86%). As many as one in twelve victims is younger than 18, and 5 percent of the victims is under 14.  The girls who are most exposed are Nigerian (87%), Ivorian (2.5%) and Tunisian (1.9%).

Globally, the lockdown has likely also limited the movement of victims and their opportunity to meet other people, find help or flee. At the same time, the closure of schools has pushed many children onto the streets in search of food or income, exposing them to the risk of being exploited or becoming victims of trafficking.  The increased reliance on online communications during lockdowns has increased the risk of falling victim to online sexual predators.

Save the Children in Italy

To support foreign minors and youths who were recruited by criminal networks in their countries of origin to be exploited in Italy’s prostitution circuit, Save the Children has run the project ‘Vie d’Uscita’ (Exit Routes) since 2012.

In the first six months of 2020, some 1,000 new victims of trafficking and exploitation were registered in Italy, and direct economic support measures were also activated to mitigate the widespread impoverishment caused by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A video explainer (Italian) on the report is available here.

Infographics  with some of the main data in the report and the cover of the "Little Invisible Slaves 2020" report can be found here.

The full version of the "Little Invisible Slaves 2020" report is available here.

To support Save the Children’s global COVID-19 emergency appeal, click here.

For further information:

+39 06-48070023/63/81/82


[1] Global Data Hub on Human Trafficking del Counter Trafficking Data Collaborative  https://www.ctdatacollaborative.org/story/age-victims-children-and-adults

[2] OIL, 2017, Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, https://www.ilo.org/global/publications/books/WCMS_575479/lang--en/index.htm

[3] European Commission, Second report on the progress made in the fight against trafficking in human beings (2018) as required under Article 20 of Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking of human beings and protecting its victims, 3 December 2018. Available link https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/sites/homeaffairs/files/what-we-do/policies/european-agenda-security/20181204_com-2018-777-report_en.pdf

[4]EU Commissioner Johansson’s Hearing on "Schengen, migration and asylum policy and the EU security strategy in the context of COVID-19" at the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, European Parliament, 7th May 2020 https://ec.europa.eu/commission/commissioners/2019-2024/johansson/announcements/opening-statement-commissioner-johansson-schengen-migration-and-asylum-policy-and-eu-security_en

[5] UNODC, 2020, Impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on trafficking in persons. Preliminary findings and messaging based on rapid stocktaking, Available al link file:///C:/Users/phoward/Desktop/HTMSS_Thematic_Brief_on_COVID-19.pdf.

[6] Department for Equal Opportunities at the Presidency of Ministers - Computerized System for Collecting Trafficking Information (SIRIT)

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