Children now make up more than one third of the migrants and refugees making the perilous sea journey from Turkey to Greece, marking a sharp increase in recent months, the UN said Tuesday.
“Children currently account for 36 percent of those risking the treacherous sea crossing between Greece and Turkey,” the UN children's agency UNICEF said.
And for the first time since the start of the migrant crisis in Europe, there are now more women and children crossing the border from Greece to Gevgelilja in Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) than adult males, spokeswoman Sarah Crowe told reporters.
“Children and women on the move now make up nearly 60 percent,” she said.
That compares to June last year, when 73 percent of the migrants on the move were adult males, and when only one in 10 were under the age of 18, she said.
“The implication of this surge in the proportion of children and women on the move are enormous,” said Marie Pierre Poirier, UNICEF's special coordinator for the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe.
“It means more are at risk at sea, especially now in the winter, and more need protection on land,” she said in a statement.
Underlining her point, the International Organization for Migration said Tuesday that 60 children were among the 272 who died trying to cross from Turkey to Greece by sea in January.
On Tuesday, the Turkish coastguard recovered the bodies of nine migrants, including two babies, after their boat sank.
Large numbers of minors have also arrived in Europe unaccompanied, leaving them vulnerable to trafficking.
On Sunday, EU police agency Europol said more than 10,000 unaccompanied children had disappeared in Europe over the past two years, warning many risked being criminally exploited.
Crowe lamented the lack of clarity around the fate of many migrant children.
This “is really a failure of child protection systems across the region,” she told AFP in an interview Monday, referring to Europe.
“Procedures need to be a lot faster and children need to be part of that process so they don't fall through the cracks and they do not fall prey to smugglers and traffickers,” she said.
In January, almost 62,200 migrants and refugees entered Europe through Greece, the IOM said.
Nearly 20,000 of the arrivals, who came mainly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, were unaccompanied minors, the organization said.