Missing children in Europe: Children running away from difficult home situations on the rise

23 May 2017:  On the occasion of International Missing Children’s day commemorated on May 25 across the globe, Missing Children Europe has launched its new Figure and Trends on missing children report for 2016.

The report features the evolution and trends on missing children cases in Europe handled by hotlines for missing children and the Cross-Border Family Mediators’ network. Hotlines for missing children are available through the same phone number - 116 000 - in 31 countries in Europe.  Since 2015, this network of hotlines has helped an increasing number of children. In 2016, there was a 12% increase in children calling the hotlines compared to the previous year.

While 116 000 hotlines seem to have received fewer calls in 2016, these hotlines saw a doubling of contacts received through channels such as text message, email and chat.

In 2016, children running away or thrown out of home made up 57% of missing children cases reported to hotlines, consistently making the largest group of missing children. Parental abductions made up the second largest group at 23% of cases.

Consistent with reports that up to 50% of migrant children go missing from some reception centres in Europe within 48 hours, cases of missing migrant children saw an increase from 2% in 2015 to 7% in 2016. However, underreporting of these disappearances and a lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities regarding the prevention and re
sponse to this very vulnerable group remains a worrying issue. Criminal abductions made up less than 1% of cases reported in 2016 while lost, injured or otherwise missing children cases made up 13% of cases.

1 in 5 missing children cases were cross-border in nature showing the importance of cross-border cooperation between national governments, hotlines, law enforcement and other child protection authorities.

In 2016, 42% of missing children reported to the 116 000 hotline were found within the year, down from 46% in 2015. While more children have been found in the other four categories of missing children cases, there has been a significant drop in the number of runaways that were found (from 57% in 2015 to 46% in 2016). Also relevant is the sharp increase in the number of children running away 3 times or more. This unveils a vulnerable, often trivialised group of children whose problems at home or reasons for running away have persisted even after the first running away incident. Children running away repeatedly are forced to use increasingly risky strategies to survive, such as sleeping rough or begging and are exposed to huge risks of sexual exploitation.

Hotlines in several countries (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, and Spain) received no funding at all from national governments in 2016. In some other countries, funding from national authorities made up just under half of the hotlines’ budgets. Funding is the main challenge for the network of hotlines, who risk being understaffed or shutting down because of lack of funding. Hotlines have responded to over 1 million calls related to missing children since 2011. In 2016, 15 hotlines received an action grant from the European Commission which started mid-2016 and will last up to 24 months.

The network of Cross-Border Family Mediators consists of 157 trained mediators from 37 countries, and is coordinated by Missing Children Europe. These trained mediators specialise in preventing and resolving family conflict including parental abductions. Compared to court proceedings, mediation is up to 60% cheaper and takes an average of 43 days to be resolved compared to 18 months when taken to court. However, too few cases seek mediation as a solution.

Read the Figures and Trends on missing children report here.

For more information, contact the Secretary General, Delphine.moralis@missingchildreneurope.eu

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