Penniless and alone, migrant children in Serbia sell sex to survive

By Lin Taylor and Valeria Cardi

BELGRADE, Feb 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Wrapped up in grey blankets, migrant boys, some as young as 10, warm themselves by a fire in a large, abandoned warehouse near the main railway station in Serbia's capital Belgrade.

Hungry, destitute and cold, they are often visited by Serbian men who offer to pay them for sex - knowing some are so desperate that they will do anything to survive.

"They come here and target the foolish ones," said Navid, a 16-year-old from Afghanistan, who did not wish to use his real name like other child migrants interviewed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"They ask how much money you need. They pay and they go, but they do bad things with them," he said, explaining how some men offer up to 2,000 Serbian dinars ($17) to have sex with the boys.

However, Navid's Afghan friend, Ali, said he did not blame those boys who sell their bodies in order to get by.

"They sleep hungry for nights here. It is cold, they have nothing, no money and they feel they have to do it," the 16-year-old said through a translator.

Hundreds of child migrants have arrived in Serbia since last year, travelling for months to escape fighting and poverty in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria.

Like Ali, many are stuck in Serbia unable to continue their journeys to Western Europe because of snow and closed borders, having spent most of their money on smugglers who got them this far.

The United Nations children's agency UNICEF has said children who rely on human smugglers to move through Europe, often under a "pay as you go system", are prone to exploitation and violence, including prostitution and rape.

Around 7,700 migrants live in Serbia, the U.N.'s refugee agency says, with around 1,100 people, mainly Afghans, sheltering in abandoned warehouses in Belgrade.

Save the Children estimates that 10 percent of migrants in Serbia are unaccompanied minors. The charity said it had not heard reports of lone child migrants selling sex in the country.

"When they become stuck in Serbia, or any other country, due to the closed borders, they spend all the money they have, and they need money to continue the journey with smugglers," said Tatjana Ristic, Save the Children spokeswoman in Belgrade.

"It is very often difficult to reach and protect them," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Source: trust news