Refugee children in thousands are being abused, exploited and detained in Libya, according to UNICEF.

Refugee women and children are suffering sexual violence, exploitation, abuse and detention at a regular basis along the Central Mediterranean migration route, UNICEF reported.

The UN children’s agency further said in the report that a total of 25,846 children – most of whom unaccompanied – crossed from North Africa to Italy using Mediterranean route in 2016.

UNICEF researchers interview 122 refugees - 82 women and 40 children – who aimed at completing the dangerous journet.

“The Central Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe is among the world's deadliest and most dangerous migrant routes for children and women,” said Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Response Crises in Europe.

"The route is mostly controlled by smugglers, traffickers and other people seeking to prey upon desperate children and women who are simply seeking refuge or a better life. We need safe and legal pathways and safeguards to protect migrating children that keep them safe and keep predators at bay." 

Women and children also reported severe conditions, lack of nutritious food and adequate shelter, located in Libyan detention centers run by the government and the armed militias.

“Children should not be forced to put their lives in the hands of smugglers because there are simply no alternatives,” said Khan.