Missing children in Europe: children as young as five running away from home and care
“It wasn’t nice in the institution. They were always yelling. I was always fighting with one of the girls in my group. So eventually I preferred going to Alex. I didn’t think about anything. Ok, I had to sleep with men but I didn’t feel any particular way about it because I was under the influence of drugs.”
17-year old girl, living in an institution
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 report on missing children for 2017. The report features the evolution and trends on missing children cases in Europe handled by the Cross-Border Family Mediators’ network and the network of hotlines for missing children available through the 116 000 number. In 2017, the network of hotlines received 189 054calls and supported 5621 missing children through calls and cases. 1 in 6 cases were cross-border and 19% of the children reported missing to the hotlines had faced situations of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. Children running away witnessed the majority of this, followed by children who were lost, injured or otherwise missing.
In 2017, children running away or thrown out of home made up 57.2% of missing children cases reported to hotlines, consistently making them the largest group of missing children. Children abducted by a parent made up the second largest group at 23.2% of cases.
While national authorities increasingly report thousands of migrant children going missing from reception centres in Europe, very few cases actually get reported to hotlines or law enforcement. The underreporting of these disappearances and a lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities regarding the prevention and response towards this very vulnerable group of children remains a worrying issue.
Criminal abductions made up less than 1% of cases reported in 2017 while lost, injured or otherwise missing children cases have increased compared to last year, making up 14.3% of cases.
1 in 6 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 2017, 46% of missing children reported to the hotline were found within the year, a 4% increase from 2016. Even though there has been a significant rise in the number of runaways that were found (from 46% in 2016 to 59% in 2017), the majority of children not found alive were runaway children. The percentage of children running away repeatedly has increased from 15% in 2016 to 16% in 2017 with reports of a single child running away over 40 times. This indicates persisting problems at these children’s homes or care institutions. Research shows that the more a child runs away, the more vulnerable they are because they are forced to use riskier strategies to survive such as sleeping rough, begging, engaging in child sexual exploitation etc. This also corresponds to data from hotlines where children running away witnessed the majority of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation among the cases reported.
Even though national governments provide the majority of funding to hotlines (33% on average), over half of the hotlines have reported not having access to funding from national authorities in 2017. The lack of financial and human resources are the main challenges cited by the network of hotlines repeatedly. While these hotlines have responded to over 1.2 million calls related to missing children since 2011, lack of stable funding puts hotlines at risk of having to shut down. Read the full Figures and Trends on missing children report here.
To raise awareness of the missing children hotline and advocate for better support and policies for runaway children, Missing Children Europe will organise an event “Runaways: Unseen and unheard” at the European Parliament on June 6th. More information here.
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