I’m still a child and I’m afraid.

Abdul is just one of the many unaccompanied foreign minors who live in the underground world surrounding the streets near Termini Central Station, in Rome.

A square meter of cardboard and a blanket for the night, that’s it. That is what their home looks like in Rome: the Eternal City and also the traditional site of the Jubilee—a celebration of universal forgiveness…

In fact, Abdul is one of the 6,000 minors who arrived to Italy without a family, after a long journey to escape war and poverty—and upon arrival, promptly disappeared. To the eyes of the system, he was spirited away, invisible, vanished. But in fact, many of these teenagers end up as the powerless victims of crime, even pedophiles, to avoid starvation.

“Invisible. In a garden with a few blades of withered grass, between taxis waiting and buses unloading tourists, behind stalls of used books and relics of the Fascist period. In the heart of the capital. Around the largest national railway junction. The great belly of Rome and Italy: Termini station.”

—Floriana Bulfon for L’Espresso

In the capital, children like Abdul have to push drugs, steal and prostitute themselves to survive. A Dantesque tragedy, where pedophiles such as the “Englishman,” [see video below] prowl the streets every day, offering unaccompanied foreign minors a couple dozen euro in exchange for sex. Fortunately for others, thanks to Abdul’s story, the Italian State Police were able to identify and arrest this criminal.

(Video credits: Cristina Mastrandrea, Floriana Bulfon for UNICEF ITALIA, directed by Toni Trupia, Mario Poeta)

As the photographer Cristina Mastrandrea told us:

“I followed the movements of this man, this so-called “Englishman.” I followed his walks, I saw his eyes and the more I looked at him, the more I got to know him, the more I wondered how was it possible that a man could spend his days searching for minors. Every day, I returned home with a sense of disgust for the baseness which human beings can reach.

“It has been a tough and delicate project to produce because of the difficult and degrading environment in which I found my subjects and mostly because of the sense of helplessness that I felt inside.

“But humanly, it has been priceless to have the chance to meet these kids and listen to their stories. Children who are unseen, unheard and completely left on their own. As a photographer, I had to defend the fact that they were minors, hiding their identities—I had to make them “invisible” twice.”

—Cristina Mastrandrea

Editors’ Note:
This photo report is part of an investigation conducted by Cristina Mastrandrea together with the journalist Floriana Bulfon. The video above, titled “We Children of Rome Central Station” ( Italian title: “Noi ragazzi dello Zoo di Roma” ) is directed by Toni Trupia and Mario Poeta. Both are part of a broader project promoted by UNICEF Italia aimed at documenting the harsh living conditions of unaccompanied foreign minors.