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.