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International Missing Children's Day

Data tal-Pubblikazzjoni: Mej 25, 2017

Every year the Police receive reports of children who go missing after running away from home, or, less commonly, after being abducted by a parent or a stranger. In this light, today’s commemoration of International Missing Children’s Day is a stark reminder of the plight of arguably the most vulnerable of children who may find themselves in situations that jeopardise their safety and wellbeing.

On this occasion, missing children Europe has launched its new Figure and Trends on missing children report.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 including Malta.  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.

In Malta, in 2016, as many as 111 children went missing. A large number of these cases involve adolescents who fail to return home when expected. In all instances of children going missing, the children were found and returned home.

The report states that 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.

The report issued by Missing Children Europe highlights that fact  1 in 5 missing children cases reported in Europe 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, according to the report, 42% of missing children reported to the 116 000 hotline were found within the year. A sharp increase in the number of children running away 3 times or more can also be noted. 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.

The disappearance of children is also a cross-border phenomenon with a number of children being abducted typically by a parent in the context of a family dispute over child custody. In Malta, in 2016, there were 6 children who were abducted by a parent. Malta has a number of international instruments at its disposal to solve cases of child abduction, notably Amber Alert, which helps trace abducted children across borders, and the Hague Convention.

However, the need is felt for a stronger deterrent to prevent cases of parental child abduction. The Office of the Commissioner for Children has been working hand in hand with the Office of the Attorney General to spearhead amendments to the law in this regard.