The United Nations children's agency is urging Justin Trudeau to press his fellow G7 leaders to do more to help vulnerable and isolated refugee children who face rampant sexual and physical abuse.
A senior UNICEF official wants the prime minister to push for progress on a serious aspect of the global refugee crisis — children travelling alone without adult supervision — while in Sicily later this month for the G7 summit.
"The Canadian government and the prime minister have spoken out very strongly on two big issues: one is around refugees and migrants and secondly, is around women and girls," said UN Assistant Secretary General Justin Forsythe, the deputy executive director of UNICEF.
All G7 countries need to do more to address the exploitation of children crossing the Mediterranean Sea into Europe, Forsythe said in an interview.
Ninety per cent of children making that journey are classified as "unaccompanied" and face no end of misery, including sexual slavery and detention during their flight, and further discrimination in some European countries, he noted.
Trudeau's "impressive leadership" on Syrian refugees and his development focus on helping women and girls in poor countries give him the political capital to push his fellow leaders to accept and help settle more unaccompanied child migrants, he said.
Forsythe singled out Britain and France as two countries that need to do more, citing the ongoing internal political debates in both as obstacles to progress.
"In all of these countries there are very strong debates around migrants and refugees. We've seen it in France, we've seen it in Britain and they're big political discussions," he said.
"What we're saying is strip that politics back and let's have a humanitarian response."
The pro-Brexit forces that persuaded the British population to vote to leave the European Union last year argued that their country's borders needed to be closed to the flow of refugees in Europe.
The recent French election gave profile to the anti-immigration policies of far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who was eventually defeated.
And Donald Trump has tried to ban migrants from a number of mainly Muslim countries from entering the United States, triggering a pitched legal battle between the White House and the U.S. judiciary.
Trump, along with British Prime Minister Theresa May and France's president-elect Emmanuel Macron, will be making their G7 debuts later this month — making Trudeau one of the group's elder statesmen after 18 months in office.
"Even if they can't agree on the whole thing of refugees and migrants, they could agree they'll particularly look after the most vulnerable children," said Forsythe.
Forsythe said the vast majority of unaccompanied children are crossing from Libya, but there are cases of them coming from Central American countries into the U.S.
It is the Mediterranean crossings that have produced some of the most horrific circumstances, said Forsythe. He recalled meeting a Nigerian teenage girl who was kept in an underground prison in Libya for eight months and repeatedly raped.
Seven Nigerian girls who reached a Sicilian port all had telephone numbers given to them in Libya of Italian criminals running prostitution rings.
Teenaged boys from Eritrea described being sold into slavery to a militia of 150 children in Libya, he said.
UNICEF says 96,000 unaccompanied children claimed asylum in Europe in 2015, but the full picture for 2016 is not yet known. However, in Germany alone, some 36,000 unaccompanied children have claimed asylum.
Forsythe was in Ottawa on Thursday for meetings with senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office and with Global Affairs Canada.