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.