In Malta, in 2016, as many as 111 children went missing but in all instances they were found and returned home, according to the Missing Children Europe report issued to mark International Missing Children’s Day tomorrow.
A large number of the cases involved adolescents who failed to return home when expected, and six 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 said, adding that it has been working hand in hand with the Office of the Attorney General to spearhead amendments to the law in this regard.
• 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 per cent increase in children calling the hotlines compared to the previous year.
• The report states that in 2016, children running away or thrown out of home made up 57 per cent 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 per cent of cases.
• The report issued by Missing Children Europe highlights that fact one in five missing children cases reported in Europe were cross-border in nature showing the importance of cooperation between national governments, hotlines, law enforcement and other child protection authorities.
• 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 2016, according to the report, 42 per cent of missing children reported to the 116 000 hotline were found within the year.
• A sharp increase in the number of children running away three 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.
It must be incredibly confronting for a parent to look at manufactured images of how their missing child may look years after they last saw them.
Sydney father Michael Macintosh has not see his son Mathieu-Pierre since September, 2013 when the then nine-year-old left home for what was meant to be a six-week holiday with his mother in France.
Almost four years later, Mathieu-Pierre would now be 13.
But the only clue Mr Macintosh has to what his only child might look like are aged-progressed images of the boy which were released by the Australian Federal Police on Thursday , International Missing Children’s Day.
“To be honest, it was a bit of a shock,” he said, of seeing the images.
“What it did bring home is that I’m living in the past. I have photographs of Matt taken just prior to him leaving here and these age-progressed images are quite different.”
Mathieu-Pierre is believed to be living in France or Belgium and is subject of an order issued by the French courts under the Hague Convention to have him returned to Australia.
His mother, Christine Etienne, was born in France but was an Australian citizen. Mr Macintosh said even though they were separated, he believed they would raise their son together in Australia.
Mr Macintosh said despite not seeing his son for nearly four years and last speaking to him on the phone almost three years ago, he was sure they would be reunited.
“I’m actually very hopeful that I’ll find him. I think it’s just a matter of time,” he said.
“In this day and age, there’s a lot of technology that can help. You can’t run forever. You just hope nothing untoward happens to him.”
On International Missing Children’s Day, age-progressed images have been released of six missing Australian children, all of whom have been abducted by their mother or gone missing with their mother.
They are Queensland siblings Serena and Thomas Speath, last seen in 2014; Queensland twins, Isabella and Bronte Watter, also missing since 2014 and Leela McDougall, who was just six when she went missing with her mother in Western Australia almost a decade ago.
Leading forensic artists from the United States National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children were commissioned to create the age-progressed images to illustrate what the children may look like today.
AFP Assistant Commissioner Debbie Platz, National Manager Crime Operations, said it was hoped the images would spark interest in the children’s cases and ignite a global effort to bring them home.
The day was launched in Canberra on Thursday by Murray Cook, a former member of The Wiggles.
Assistant Commissioner Platz said about 38,000 people were reported missing in Australia each year and of those, about 20,000 were aged under 18.
“Most of them are actually found within the first couple of days so that consists of children who might run away or fail to tell their parents where they are or they’re abducted by one of the parents and then they’re located quite quickly,” she said.
The AFP received 400 recovery orders each year from the Family Court for children missing with, or abducted by, a parent, with each order possibly relating to multiple children.
On average, there 141 applications to have children returned to Australia via the Hague Convention after being abducted overseas by a parent.
Assistant Commissioner Platz said there were genuine cases of parents fleeing situations of domestic violence but abducting children and breaking the law was not the answer.
“I’ve seen that when children are returned, as they get older, they will often turn on the parent who has abducted them. That parent will then lose contact with that child themselves,” she said.
“So you’re causing them trauma all through their life because they don’t have friends or family surrounding them – and they’re often highly mobile so they don’t have time to make friends.
“They might also change their names and characteristics and that can also cause a lot of emotional abuse on the child.”
Mr Macintosh said his ex-wife fabricated stories of abuse as a tactic to keep her child.
“Little stupid things. Like taking photos of Matt in the bathtub, she went to the local police station and made a report that I was abusing him,” he said.
“That’s a typical retort in these kinds of cases.”
Mr Macintosh said he last spoke to his son in July 2014 in a rushed phone call. There had been no contact since. He has never remarried or had other children.
“Matt was my first and only child,” he said.
“They say time heals everything. I think there are some things time can’t heal.
“Initially, there is anguish, pain, frustration, frustration at the world, really. Gradually you fall into a bit of acceptance.
“I realise I’ve done what I can do and I’m still hopeful I can find him. If I can just get the message out to the average man on the street the significance of stealing or taking a child.
“It’s not just his family that is gone, but everything he knows.
“He was a very sporty kid, always outside. He loved Australia.”
Assistant Commissioner Platz said the AFP would continue to search for children until they were found, managing the national and international effort through the National Missing Persons Coordination Centre.
“Today—25 May—is a day for us all to commemorate missing children who have found their way home; remember those who have been victims of crime; and continue efforts to find those who are still missing,” she said.
Anyone with information relating to a missing or “parentally abducted” child is urged to contact their local police or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
Tom, then aged four, had been distraught. His father couldn’t work out why. Serena was also acting strangely, running around, jumping from activity to activity.
Then the doorbell rang.
Tom broke down crying and Serena snapped to a stop, put her shoes on and got ready to go.
The moment sticks in Harry’s mind now they’re gone. His children were only supposed to be visiting their mum for a few days.
“It’s like as if they’ve disappeared off the face of the planet,” Mr Speath said.
Today he was given another chance to find them.
Experts at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the United States have created a photo manipulation of what they would look like now, aged seven and eight.
Harry Speath with the age-processed images of his children that were abducted by their mother. Picture: Kym Smith.Source:News Corp Australia
It’s part of a bid to get the message out about what Australian Federal Police acting commissioner Debbie Platz calls a growing problem for the county.
“Because of the climate that we live in and the extraordinary stress that many families are under, we are seeing a rise in parental abduction cases of children,” she said today.
“Investigations are incredibly difficult.
“What makes them complicated is that the parent who takes the child will often be travelling, have high mobility, they might change the child’s appearance, their name, the children are constantly changing schools.
“It has a really detrimental affect on the child.
“And because they don’t make social connections and friends that makes it all the more harder for us to be able to trace the children.”
Launching International Missing Children’s Day in Canberra today, Federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan said it was “vitally important” to get the message out about missing children.
“One parent who does not know the fate of their children is one too many,” he said.
Michael Macintosh, whose son Mathieu-Pierre was last seen in 2013 when his mum took him to France, had one message for other parents going through the same pain: “hang in there”.
Michael Macintosh with an image of his son that is age-progressed, to illustrate what he may look like today at the launch of International Missing Children’s Day. Picture: Kym SmithSource:News Corp Australia
“You go through many emotions,” he said.
“You go through a bit of frustration, anger, pain and eventually there’s some sort of acceptance and you move on in the hope that you eventually find your child.”
Mathieu-Pierre, aged nine when he disappeared, is believed to be living in France or Belgium. An image of him at age 13 was one of several other photo manipulations created by experts in the US, along with Isabella and Bronte Watter, who disappeared in April 2014 from Townsville, and Leela McDougall, who was last seen in Nannup, WA, in 2007. She would be 15-years-old now.
An age-progressed image of Isabella Watter at age 10. Picture: Australian Federal PoliceSource:AAP
Bronte Watter was abducted by Michael Watter’s ex-wife. Picture: Australian Federal PoliceSource:AAP
Twins Bronte and Isabella Watter were dropped off at school and have never been seen since by their father Michael.Source:The Courier-Mail
Leela McDougall was aged six when she and her mother disappeared in 2007. Picture: Australian Federal PoliceSource:AAP
Leela was last seen with her mother Chantelle. A note on the front door said ‘Gone to Brazil’.Source:Supplied
PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY, MD., (WUSA) – Michael Muse has not been able to shake the agonizing feeling of abandonment for nearly five years.
“I find myself, what I call, waking up from my dreams with my soul crying. No physical tears, but all the feeling of sorrow, like God himself is no longer with me,” Muse said.
His dreams, filled with images of his son Christian, often take him on an emotional roller coaster.
Muse describes his son as a brilliant, athletic, rough and tumble young man who worked through his growing pains.
Christian refocused, learned a trade and graduated with a certificate from a community college.
“Oh, I was so proud of him,” Muse said. “To see him smile as he walked across that stage, like, ‘See dad, I told you I could do it!'”
His reoccurring dreams of the missing 19-year-old now haunt the local Go-Go legend. He had no idea July 15, 2012 would be the last day he would lay eyes on his son.
“He said, ‘dad I’ll be back’,” Muse said.
He did not come back home — after no word from Christian for two days, his father called county police to report him missing.
“With his age, they immediately deemed it non-critical, for whatever reason. There was no media coverage on it at all until 16 months after he was gone,” Muse said.
“My kids were on the run for three years,” John Howard said.
Fatherhood was a life passage Howard was looking to for most of his young adult life.
“I loved it from day one. I was there for both of my sons’ birth. I was there for their first words,” he said.
But the single father found himself in a downward spiral when his boys and their mom disappeared, after she lost custody in March 2013. Howard hit a road block when he tried to file a missing persons report with the police.
“They were like, no it’s not missing because you know who has your kids, ” he said. “And I was totally blown away. As a parent of a child of color, I didn’t feel like my child was that important.”
“This has been going on for years which is the reason why we started our organization,” Derrica Wilson said.
Wilson’s organization, The Black and Missing Foundation, is a non-profit organization with a mission to bring awareness to missing persons of color across the country.
“Because they’ve been swept under the rug,” she said. “When we first started the organization back in 2009, 30 percent of missing persons in the United States were persons of color, and that number has since increased to 40 percent.”
“Going into our community, our people didn’t think there was an issue with missing persons of color because when they turned their televisions on they didn’t see anyone who looked like them,” Wilson said.
Instead, they’d see the faces of Natalie Holloway, Caylee Anthony, Elizabeth Smart — missing cases the Poytner Institute for Media Studies sais was extensively covered by nightly network news for months, even years.
The disappearance of 8-year-old Relisha Ruddd in the District never reached that saturation of national attention.
“It’s important to get these stories out because their missing loved one lives are valued. The worst thing is the unknown, not knowing if your loved one is hungry; if they’re cold; if you’re even going to see them again,” Wilson said
Black and Missing coaches families so that they can get awareness for their missing to the media immediately. In addition, the organization provides investigative, counseling, medical or other services to prepare them once they are reunited with them.
Howard’s sons are back home now. After years of posting fliers and searching on his own, Wilson, a former law enforcement officer, armed him with the language to push police into action.
“If it wasn’t for Derrica putting everything together, saying no, it’s a parental abduction,” he said. “It was almost scary because it started rolling within, like twenty minutes. I got nine phone calls from different detectives.
“A lady recognized the vehicle that they were in and she called the tip line. That day, it was just so many emotions. So, I just kinda hugged them, hugged them and we all cried,” Howard said.
Muse’s son remains missing.
“You know, me being in the entertainment field, I have to kind of mask my emotions a lot of times,” he said. “So I can’t carry that sorrow outwardly. I’m hoping, I’m praying and I’m believing that in 2017 I will see my son.”
“I empathize and sympathize with anyone who’s going through this, but that’s my son and we just want him back,” he added.
Tourism Update, in a special report, reveal that South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs cannot back up any of the stats they have given to increase visa and travel rules to the country.
Earlier this year, the Department of Home Affairs made headlines with claims that 15 child trafficking cases had been detected at OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg. Then Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba (rember – president Jacob Zuma made him Finance Minister overnight and the Rand went ‘bang’ – Rd.), announced the news of the 15 cases the day before Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle in an attempt to justify the “success” of his restrictive border policy.
Tourism Update then asked investigative journalist Nicola Mawson to find out whether these cases were indeed child trafficking.
But first the background: South Africa made it law in October 2015 for parents moving children in and out of SA to carry with them an unabridged birth certificate.In addition, minors travelling with only one parent required the other’s permission to move the child out of or into the country. The Department of Home Affairs said when introducing the requirement, that this was ostensibly to stop children being moved illegally – or trafficked. There have been claims that as many as 30 000 children were trafficked in SA every year – but Africa Check’s research found that the numbers were not backed up by research.
However, Tourism Update quotes Modiri Matthews, Chief Director of Inspectorate at the department who said in a telephone interview that not all the 15 cases announced by the Minister were child trafficking – as some involved parental abduction and illegal adoption.
In response to e-mailed questions, Tebogo Phokanoko, Deputy Director at the Central Law Enforcement unit, failed to provide numbers of how many children were spirited out of SA illegally since the law came into effect, noting ports of entry could provide further numbers. Phokanoko was specifically asked how many instances of child trafficking there were, and did not provide one example.
However, Phokanoko cites examples of a Chinese minor being abducted by the child’s father to China, noting that the matter is currently in court.
There have also been cases of illicit adoption, in which a Democratic Republic of Congo child was illegally adopted. That matter is also in court, and a process is under way to determine exactly who its parents are and establish legitimacy, says Phokanoko.
In some cases, the department had to liaise with Department of Social Development, the South African Police Service and National Prosecuting Authority, says Phokanoko.
Phokanoko adds most of the cases the department comes across are of minors being smuggled into South Africa by land, mostly from Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique.
The African Centre for Migration & Society noted in May 2014, after the DHA had announced that the new regulations would come into effect, that there was, at the time, “no systematic research available that provides comprehensive insight into the prevalence or patterns of trafficking into or out of South Africa or the Southern African region”.
These claims were backed up by research by Africa Check, which found that the estimates of how many children were trafficked in SA could not be backed up. The website also quotes Liesl Muller and Patricia Erasmus, both attorneys at Lawyers for Human Rights, as noting that DHA’s efforts won’t stop trafficking, because traffickers don’t use legal ports of entry.
It seems, therefore, that the DHA’s initial stated intention to cut down on trafficking was a mere smokescreen.