Of the 1,320 unaccompanied minors who entered Italy illegally from the southern island of Lampedusa this year, hundreds have disappeared, according to the charity Save the Children.
The group believes that the missing children may have fallen prey to human traffickers or criminal groups.
Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper reported that approximately 400 minors between the ages of 15 and 17 have vanished from their host communities in southern Sicilian provinces.
According to Adnkronos International news, a Save the Children spokesperson said there is no clear evidence of what happened to the youth.
The organization has been monitoring the issue since June and will report the exact number missing later this year.
Minors, sometimes younger than fifteen, arrive on the island unable to communicate in Italian or English.
Though social workers attempt to educate the children about available opportunities and support systems, and while some kids find agricultural work, research shows others become beggars, pickpockets, prostitutes or drug dealers.
North Africans represent a majority of the youth facing these risks, and the group says it needs resources, translators and staff to do its work more effectively.
Save the Children and other charities will soon launch a project in Rome that provides legal, health and recreational services to illegal immigrant minors vulnerable to exploitation.
“Italy: Illegal child immigrants vanishing, says charity”
Adnkronos International, October 7, 2008
“I bimbi fantasma di Lampedusa”
Repubblica (Italy), October 7, 2008