Budget cuts for missing children hotlines result in lack of support for families in a moment of crisis

Early in 2015, baby Luca, only a few weeks old, was abducted by his father in Italy. In a matter of hours, the baby had been taken across 3 countries, before the cooperation of the hotlines for missing children and law enforcement in Spain, Italy and France helped reunite the mother with her child. “Thank you for your work and your emotional support in finding Luca. The collaboration between all the services was essential, and I will be forever grateful”, said Anna, the mother of Luca.

A child is reported missing every 2 minutes in Europe. To support children and families at this crucial and challenging time, a network of hotlines for missing children has been set up in 29 countries in Europe operated through the same number – 116 000. The hotline provides free, professional support 24/7 to anyone calling the hotline.

In 2015, the European network of missing children hotlines responded to 209 841 calls related to missing children. However 2015 has been a particularly challenging year for the hotlines. Funding from the European Union to national hotlines, which many hotlines depend on, was discontinued in 2015 leading to a drop in the budget (52%) and in human resources (31%) handling missing children cases.

Lack of staff to answer calls at such a crucial time is an important reason why a large number of calls (39%) could not be answered in 2015. It resulted in a drop of 22% of calls responded to by the hotlines in 2015, after consistent increases in calls handled between 2011 and 2014.

While the European Commission stresses the Member States’ obligation under European law to support the hotlines, many hotlines did not benefit from national funding in 2015.

Data collected from this network of hotlines tells us that children running away or pushed out of home or institutions represent 54% of missing children cases reported to hotlines. Children abducted by a parent following a family conflict make up 29% of cases. Figures also include an alarmingly underreported group of children who go missing, particularly unaccompanied migrant children. Europol confirmed the disappearance of at least 10 000 unaccompanied children after they reached the EU although actual figures are probably much higher.

International Missing Children’s Day is commemorated on the 25th of May across the world in memory of the thousands of children who disappear every year. This year, awareness campaigns and efforts include a conference at the European Parliament and a high level dinner with Their Majesties King Albert and Queen Paola, Her Excellency Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, Europol Director Rob Wainwright and other VIP guests. This event will commemorate the 15th anniversary of Missing Children Europe and boost awareness and support for missing children. "What children think", a video that interviews several children on what they think adults should do to protect missing children including unaccompanied children will be launched at the dinner.

Missing Children Europe’s Annual Report and Data Report can be found here.

Missing Children Europe represents a network of 29 NGOs in 24 countries and provides the link between research, policy and organisations on the ground to protect children from any kind of violence, abuse or neglect that is caused by or results from them going missing. As a network we provide free 24/7 expert support in all cases of missing children. Our activities include co-ordinating the hotlines for missing children, running the cross-border family mediators’ network and developing tools to reduce the number of unaccompanied migrant children who go missing.

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