By Kieran Guilbert
LONDON, Oct 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - European nations must do more to protect thousands of children from being trafficked by criminal networks and their own families, Europol said on Thursday, highlighting the under-reported risks faced by boys and young migrants.
In the wake of Europe's migration crisis, traffickers are increasingly targeting children from the continent and countries such as Nigeria and Vietnam, and forcing them to work in farms and factories or selling them for sex, the police agency said.
"Exploited children in vulnerable situations deserve to be protected more than anyone else," Europol head Catherine De Bolle said in a statement to mark EU Anti-Trafficking Day.
"This landmark report draws ... the most up-to-date intelligence picture of this heinous crime ... to better support future investigative actions at both national and EU-level."
At least 4 million children worldwide are victims of forced labour and sexual exploitation, according to the United Nations.
Trafficked children are also made to beg on the streets, pickpocket and shoplift, and are put up for illegal adoption and forced into sham marriages, the report said.
Labour trafficking is on the rise across Europe and has overtaken sexual exploitation as the predominant form of modern slavery in several countries including Britain, Belgium and Portugal, according to rights body the Council of Europe.
Many children are sold to criminal networks by their families in hope of a better life, while others are directly exploited or trafficked by their own relatives, Europol found.
"Traffickers often recruit parents and their children ... then use the kids against their families to control them," Debbie Beadle, a programme director at anti-trafficking charity ECPAT UK, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone.
"Child victims just aren't coming forward, they often don't know they are being exploited," she added. "Europe needs better border checks for children, and support and services for victims so that ... they don't fall back into exploitation."
Children sold into the sex trade are increasingly being advertised online and portrayed as adults, according to Europol.
British police on Thursday challenged adult websites and social media companies to better patrol the trade after announcing dozens of arrests and the rescue of at least 90 suspected sex slaves in a two-week long crackdown.
"Trafficking of minors is the lowest and most vile crime against those who need our protection most," Dimitris Avramopoulos, Europe's migration chief, said in a statement.
(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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