Missing Children Europe Statement on COVID-19
Protecting children (at risk of) going missing
The COVID-19 pandemic has a huge impact on individuals and societies, challenging us to adapt to new lifestyles, working conditions and social relationships. At the same time, the restrictive measures to limit the spread of the pandemic, have heightened the risks to which certain children are exposed. While fighting the virus that is shaking our society, we cannot neglect our responsibility and obligation to protect the most vulnerable among us.
116 000 HOTLINES for missing children play a crucial role in guaranteeing support and protection for missing children, children at risk of going missing and their families, especially in this critical moment. They are currently redoubling efforts to work remotely and ensure their services 24/7.
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RUNAWAYS - Hotline operators notices lockdowns do not prevent children from running away. Isolation measures and lack of access to psychosocial services increase the risk of running away for children in already critical environments: children living in institutions and children in families with pre-existing elements of violence. Crisis measures trigger domestic and interpersonal abuse in more families and lead to reduced supervision and neglect from parents in others, with no peers, teachers or social workers around to notice. School closures and social distancing, for all these children, means losing contact with their sources of support. In this situation, access to helplines and to hotlines for children (at risk of) going missing is essential and potentially lifesaving.
PARENTAL ABDUCTIONS – The measures cause new cases of international child abductions, as some separated parents decided to move to another country with the children for the duration of the confinement. At the same time, the situation aggravates existing international family conflicts. For both new and existing cases, experts report slowdowns, deferrals and dismissals of judicial proceedings and return decisions. Border closures make it impossible to implement return decisions and bring the child back to the left-behind parent and country of origin, triggering feelings of stress, uncertainty and fear in the children involved. This intensifies the pressure on hotlines whose role is to support the left behind parent or to organise online mediation sessions.
CHILDREN IN MIGRATION - COVID-19 worsens the situation of children in migration, whether with their families, unaccompanied or separated, many of whom are neglected and live in poor and degrading conditions. Measures taken to curb the spreading of the virus sever their already limited access to support, legal aid and services. Many migrant children don’t have free and unrestricted access to health care, which is highly worrying during a global pandemic. Asylum procedures are suspended in some countries. Social distancing and isolation increase the risk of children to become separated from ill parents or caregivers. As a result, children in migration are now even more exposed to the risk of going missing, becoming victim of trafficking and exploitation, both sexual and labour. 116 000 hotlines are key players in making sure that all missing children cases are equally followed up, including when a missing child is a migrant child.
To support, protect and ensure that no one is left behind during these times, Missing Children Europe:
- Makes sure that the network of hotlines for missing children remains operational, keeping in touch with the members and remaining available to provide support where needed
- Carries out activities to support its members with the aim to improve the quality of the support provided both at national and international level
- Advocates for increased support from European Union, to make sure that all national hotlines remain available for free, 24/7, to all children and families in need including in these times of increased pressure.
HOTLINES FOR MISSING CHILDREN NEED NATIONAL GOVERNMENTS AND EUROPEAN DECISION MAKERS TO:
1. RESOURCE THE NATIONAL 116 000 HOTLINE TO FACE THE ONGOING EMERGENCY
In these days, with the lives and well-being of children are at risk, the EU and Member States should raise awareness on the crucial role of 116 000 hotlines, as well as support and ensure the availability and accessibility to this service 24/7, in each and every country where the hotline is operational.
2. ENSURE ACCESS TO CHILD PROTECTION SERVICES
Member States should ensure that child protection services remain open, available and accessible to children under these circumstances. To safeguard the health of child protection workers, they should adapt the services to remote work, through use of technology, phone, video calls and systems that guarantee contact between children and social workers.
3. PRIORITISE THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE CHILD
Closure of borders, travel restrictions and any other measure limiting free movement should be necessary, non-discriminatory and proportionate. Such restrictions should have the smallest impact and affect the implementation of return decisions in international child abduction cases at lowest; the best interest of the child principle should always prevail when implementing return decisions, including under current circumstances.
4. AVOID COMPROMISES ON CHILDREN’s RIGHTS
In order to protect children in migration, including those that fall outside protection systems, and to prevent them from going missing or becoming victims of abuse, Member States should speed up asylum procedures, engage in family tracing and reunification through cross-border cooperation, provide family-based alternative care for unaccompanied children and prevent separations from caregivers and parents. Member States should refrain from suspending the right to apply to international protection and should comply to their obligations under human rights, European and international law.
In addition, Missing Children Europe welcomes and supports ongoing campaigns for the relocation of unaccompanied children from Greece.
“Like our health workers, food supply chain workers and safety force, you [hotlines operators] are key to society.”
– Maud de Boer Buquicchio, President of Missing Children Europe