Mythbusters: what you thought you knew about children going missing

Mythbusters: what you thought you knew about children going missing 

Brussels, 26 November 2018 - How often are children abducted? Why should we worry about children running away? Should we still be teaching our kids about Stranger Danger? How can I help find a missing child? Why do migrant children go missing or not stay in the country they arrive in? There are many questions and common misunderstandings about children that go missing. Missing Children Europe wants to set the record straight and put these myths to rest once and for all.

Myth 1: Criminal abductions happen all the time and we should keep a close eye on our children!
Child abductions by strangers make up less than 1% of missing children cases reported to the hotlines, making them the smallest group of children going missing. The largest category of missing children are children who run away or who are pushed out of home for reasons linked to violence, conflict and neglect. Instead of fostering a suspicious and fearful environment for children, we recommend having an open conversation and communication with kids about what to do if they need help and who they can count on in these situations.4

Myth 2: Runaway children will come home eventually.

Children often run away from situations at home that are harmful to them and running away provides an escape to a situation that has become intolerable. Research shows that 1 in 6 runaways sleeps rough, 1 in 8 begs or steals to survive and 1 in 12 runaways face serious harm including sexual exploitation. Runaways are also 9 times likelier to contemplate suicide than other children. In Belgium, for example, 17% of children running away spent between a week to a month on the run while 8% spent between 1-6 months away from home. Our hotline has received reports of a single child running away up to 40 times showing that there is often no systematic support given to the child and family to resolve the issue at its source. Therefore the assumption that children running away will come back eventually can put children at risk of long term harm and prevent professionals from resolving the main issue.

Myth 3: International child abductions are committed by fathers taking their children to Islamic countries.
Parental abductions are quite common in Europe and make up the second largest category of missing children. In almost 3 out of 4 cases, children are taken to or held in another country by their mother. Additionally, more than 70% of all parental abduction cases take place from one EU Member State to another EU Member State. Abductions to an Islamic country are rare.

Myth 4: Stranger danger! Children should never talk to strangers.
Stranger danger is a false narrative that is hugely outdated. It’s actually counterproductive to tell children to distrust all strangers, as there may well be situations when they need to ask an unknown person for help. Instead, we should teach children to recognize scenarios that pose a threat for them and who they can turn to for help: such as the police, security guards, families with children etc. Research by Parents and Abducted Children Together (PACT) has demonstrated that even older children don’t know how to differentiate strangers from non-strangers. Moreover, child sexual abuse is usually perpetrated within the circle of trust i.e. people that the child knows and trust.

Myth 5: Young migrants move across Europe to find a job and end up as criminals.
1 in 5 children arriving in Europe is less than 14 years old. Many of them go missing, either because they are pushed from care, or because they are abducted. Even cases of babies from non-EU countries have been reported missing to our hotlines. These children come from countries where war, violence and poverty have made the situation intolerable and dangerous. Whether forced to make the journey alone or separated from family, once in Europe these children are often alone and terrified of seeking help for risk of being sent back. These children make the journey to find safety and reach family.

However, their journey to and within Europe is often characterised by homelessness, starvation, violence, sexual and psychological abuse. When national leaders fail to provide appropriate protection to children, they expose children to higher risks. When left without the much needed protection, children are forced to rely on smugglers or traffickers, who promise them a chance to reach family in Europe or earn a living through criminal activities such as forced prostitution. When children are sheltered in appropriate facilities or with families, feel listened to and supported as individuals, can go to school and attain skills to get a job in the future, they become an integrated part of society and contribute to build a future we can be proud of.

Last week, we created a number of social media polls to put the 5 myths to the test with our audience. The results of the polls confirm that there is still a widespread lack of knowledge about missing children. You can find the results here.

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In the case of a child going missing, the 116 000 hotline offers 24/7 support across Europe
116 000 is the hotline number available across Europe to runaways and parents affected by a child disappearance. This network of hotlines is available through the same 116 000 number in 31 countries, in English as well as in the national languages. The hotline provides professional, psychological, administrative and legal support 24/7 and free of charge. Depending on each individual situation, the operators can open a missing child case with the local authorities or arrange support with social workers, mediators etc. Find out more in our Figure and Trends Report 2017, which collects and analyses data and statistics from the 116 000 hotline and the network of Cross-Border Family Mediators.


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