The United Nations children’s agency has reported a spike in the number of unaccompanied children crossing international borders.
On Wednesday, UNICEF announced in a statement that between 2015 and 2016, some 200,000 solo minors applied for asylum in 80 countries spread out throughout the globe.
It added that another 100,000 minors were recorded while trying to cross the border between the US and Mexico.
The total sum of 300,000 shows a five-fold increase since 2010, when 66,000 children were recorded while trying to pass through international borders on their own.
UNICEF warns that many of those children fall prey to abuse and human traffickers during their journeys to escape poverty and violence in their own home countries.
“Ruthless smugglers and traffickers are exploiting their vulnerability for personal gain, helping children to cross borders, only to sell them into slavery and forced prostitution,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth.
The UN agency noted that at least 70,000 unaccompanied children sought asylum in Europe in 2015-16. It added that the central Mediterranean route between North Africa and Italy has one of the world’s highest mortality rates, with 4,579 deaths in 2016, 700 of which were children.
“Deprived, unprotected, and often alone, children on the move can become easy prey for traffickers and others who abuse and exploit them,” added the UNICEF statement.