Children fleeing the war in Ukraine are at heightened risk of human trafficking and exploitation, warns the Unicef.
"Traffickers often seek to exploit the chaos of large-scale population movements, and with more than 1.5 million children having fled Ukraine as refugees since February 24, and countless others displaced by violence inside the country, the threat facing children is real and growing," the UN agency said on Saturday.
According to a recent analysis conducted by Uniced and the Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking (ICAT), 28 per cent of identified victims of trafficking globally are children.
In the context of Ukraine, Unicef child protection experts believe that children would likely account for an even higher proportion of potential trafficking victims given that children and women represent nearly all of the refugees who have fled the country so far.
"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," said Afshan Khan, Unicef's Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia.
"Displaced children are extremely vulnerable to being separated from their families, exploited, and trafficked. They need governments in the region to step up and put measures in place to keep them safe."
More than 500 unaccompanied children were identified crossing from Ukraine into Romania from February 24 to March 17m the Unicef said, adding that the true number of separated children who have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries is likely much higher.
"Children fleeing the war in Ukraine need to be screened for their vulnerability as they cross into a neighbouring country," said Khan.
"Every effort should be made to strengthen screening processes at refugee border crossings."
Unicef is urging the governments of neighbouring nations and other countries of destination to strengthen child protection screenings at border crossings, especially those with Ukraine, to better identify at-risk children.
Additional screening for protection risks should be implemented in shelters, large urban train stations, and other locations where refugees are gathering or passing through, it added.