Abena, and 30 000 other children went missing in Europe - training and better cross-border cooperation could have prevented it.
5 December 2019, Brussels – Missing Children Europe and partners searched for Abena, a young, 14-year-old girl who arrived in Europe alone, fleeing child marriage in Eritrea. Since her arrival, she went missing from care three times. Out of sight of her social workers and carers, Abena was abused, exploited and had no access to healthcare and shelter when she needed it the most.
Although the search for Abena was a simulation organised within the framework of the Interact project, her situation reflects that of at least 30,000 children who have gone missing as they travelled through Europe between 2014 and 2017. Often, these cases are not followed up or are given low priority, due to the lack of available information, a lack of resources and authorities’ lack of appropriate training on how to deal with these specific cases. In 2018, only 25% of young newcomers reported to the 116 000 hotline for missing children were traced by authorities. The fate of the other 75% remains unknown.
MEP Hilde Vautmans, co-chair of the Child Rights Intergroup in the European Parliament: “30 000, what a shocking number! I cannot believe that over 30 000 children went missing after their arrival in Europe. This number is much higher than the 2016 Europol figure of 10 000 missing unaccompanied minors in Europe. What worries me, is that no one really knows where they are. In the best case scenario, these children went to another country and are staying with family. But it could also be that they are being used for child labour or sexual exploitation, or that they are killed for their organs. In Europe! Europe can no longer look away when it comes to missing unaccompanied children. Every child should be protected from every form of exploitation, including migrant children. I urge all Member States to have a close look at the lessons learned from the Interact project and implement its recommendations.”
Missing Children Europe and its partners want to radically improve the ways that professionals cooperate across borders in their response to missing and trafficked children in migration. With systematic and improved cooperation between professionals, Abena's story could have turned out differently: We could have prevented her, and the tens of thousands of other children, from going missing.
The newly launched Interact report and practical guidance identify key challenges encountered in the participating countries of Greece, Italy, France, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Sweden. The guidance includes effective mechanisms, procedures, tools and good practices for national and cross-border cooperation in cases of missing unaccompanied children at risk of (re)trafficking.
On 2-3 December 2019, we trained 55 professionals working on the ground with children in migration on information sharing, multi-agency collaboration within and across borders and on how to engage positively with children who are outside of and distrustful of the child protection system. The following day, we presented the report and handbook to civil society and representatives from EU institutions at a policy event. There, participants discussed the main challenges addressed in the report and heard recommendations to policy and decision makers directly from the training participants.