Migrant children are being sexually exploited in the Italian border town of Ventimiglia, a major transit hub for migrants attempting to cross into France, according to a report from NGO Save the Children Italy.
The report said that the minors, mostly from Sub-Saharan Africa, are being required to pay €50 to €150 ($58 to $175) for a safe passage into France and they are being forced by the smugglers to perform various sex acts in return if they cannot afford the fee.
The children were also being offered shelter and food in exchange for sex, the report said.
According to Raffaela Milano, the director of Italy-Europe programs at Save the Children, the minors were usually living in conditions of great degradation and exposed to serious risks of abuse and exploitation as they mostly travel unaccompanied through Europe to reunite with their parents or relatives.
The report explained that the conditions in Ventimiglia worsened after the removal of a makeshift camp by the Roya River in April. The children were forced to live on the streets in degrading and dangerous conditions following the camp's removal.
The report said more than 1,900 girls had been exploited between January 2017 and March 2018 in parts of Italy, including Rome, regions of Veneto, Abruzzo, Marche and the Sardinia Island.
The charity said it has evidence on many cases, especially the ones occurred in 2018.
Italy has received more than 700,000 migrants and refugees since 2013.
Many West Africans try to continue on to France, where they speak the language and often have relatives, only to find the border shut to them.
Since coming to power in a coalition government on June 1, Matteo Salvini, head of the far-right League, has been making waves by turning away humanitarian ships that have picked up migrants from North Africa in the Mediterranean. Rome has also demanded that its European Union peers do much more to help Italy, which along with Greece has received the most migrants, pressing efforts to stop them from coming at the source. Italy argues that the law places an unfair burden on countries that border the Mediterranean, and its new populist government has stepped up pressure on other EU countries to share responsibility for arriving refugees.