In a desperate attempt to stay alive, some young women and even children among the refugees flooding Europe have been forced to engage in "survival sex" in exchange for transport to enable them and their families to continue their journey, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) revealed.
The UN's refugee agency is now calling on European leaders to undertake urgent measures to protect migrant women and women amid mounting concerns over sexual violence and abuse, the Daily Express reported.
The UNHCR said it has received information that human traffickers are taking advantage of families who have run out of money or have been robbed by gangs preying on the refugees, offering them transport to Europe in exchange for sex with their women and children.
More than one-third of the 644,000 refugees and migrants who have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year are women and children, officials said.
"Refugee and migrant children moving in Europe are at heightened risk of violence and abuse, including sexual violence, especially in overcrowded reception sites, or in many locations where refugees and migrants gather, such as parks, train stations, bus stations and roadsides," Melissa Fleming, a UNCHR spokeswoman, said.
"From testimony and reports we have received there have been instances of children engaging in survival sex to pay smugglers to continue their journey, either because they have run out money, or because they have been robbed," she added.
UNHCR officials noted that some children are travelling alone without their parents or adult relatives, making them easy prey to human sex vultures.
Some of these children have been placed in detention centres in the company of adults in some countries, they said.
Women travelling without male family members or companions are especially vulnerable particularly during night as they move through dark and dangerous roads in Europe, the officials said.
The UNHCR also noted the overcrowded migrant reception centres all over Europe. These centres lack adequate lighting and spaces designed for single women or families with children, the officials said.
The UN refugee agency is calling on "all concerned national authorities" in Europe to provide heightened security for women and girls housed in temporary migrant shelters.
It is also urging European authorities to stop detaining children and to make sure that family members are not separated from each other for their own protection.
Leaders of 10 EU and three non-EU countries met on Monday in an attempt to address the migrant crisis in Europe.
The hundreds of thousands of migrants swamping Europe are fleeing from the hardship and danger in war-torn countries, particularly Syria, which has become a battleground for various combatants including terrorist groups like the Islamic State.