ALEXANDRIA, VA – The International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC) wants to remind the public that May 25 is National Missing Children’s Day in the U.S. and International Missing Children’s Day in many countries around the world.
Activities held throughout the US and around the globe will bring attention to and continue the search for the thousands of children who are missing. Efforts will raise awareness about the global problem of child abduction as well as remind parents of steps they can take to help keep their children safe.
THE GLOBAL MISSING CHILDREN PROBLEM
An estimated 8 million children are reported missing each year around the world. Of that number, according to the latest U.S. Department of Justice research, an estimated 800,000 children will go missing in the United States.
Earlier this month, Americans rejoiced in the recovery of long-term missing children Amanda Berry, Gina De Jesus and Michele Knight. In much of the world this dramatic story was viewed as a uniquely American phenomenon. But it is not.
In Austria in 1998 10-year-old Natascha Kampusch was abducted and held by her abductor in a secret underground cellar for eight years before she escaped. In Belgium in 1996 12-year-old Sabine Dardenne was kidnapped by the infamous Marc Dutroux as she rode her bicycle to school. Sabine and 14-year-old Laetitia Delhez were held in Dutroux’s basement for three months before being rescued, though four other children were killed. In India in 2006 parents claimed that the disappearance of their children was being ignored by authorities. When community leaders found the decomposed remains of a child, police started digging and in 2007 found 15 – 17 skeletons of children. Ultimately, the police reported at least 31 child victims. There are many other examples.
Great progress is being made in the recovery of missing children. In most of the developed world (North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand) there are strong laws on missing children, protocols in place, and central registries etc. There is now a national center for missing and exploited children in Canada, South Korea, Taiwan and the UK. ICMEC helped create centers in Belarus, Belgium, Romania, Russia, South Africa and a Southeastern European Center for Missing & Exploited Children that serves as a regional center for 13 countries in the Balkans.
Child abduction alerts, patterned after the U.S. AMBER Alert, have been implemented in 18 countries: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Greece, Guatemala, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Malaysia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, South Korea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.
ICMEC has built a Global Missing Children’s Network of 22 countries. In Europe, Missing Children Europe has brought together 28 NGOs in 19 member states of the European Union and Switzerland. Europe is also implementing a single missing child telephone number across Europe, 116 000.
However there are still many countries in which most missing child cases are never reported to authorities. And when a child is reported as missing in many countries there is little understanding of the risk that child faces and no system in place to ensure rapid and efficient response in order to secure a quick recovery. In most of the developing world including much of Africa, Asia and Latin America no one is counting missing children, there are no specific laws on missing children, no established protocol and no central missing child registries, there are no mandates to report and no established system to respond.
“Every child deserves a safe childhood,” said Ernie Allen, President and CEO of ICMEC. “It is essential that governments around the world make a commitment to locate and recover missing children. They need to ensure rapid response to missing child cases, and provide law enforcement with the resources and training they need for handling missing child cases.”
HISTORY OF MISSING CHILDREN’S DAY
The observance of May 25 as Missing Children’s Day began in the United States in 1983. On May 25, 1979, 6-year-old Etan Patz disappeared from a street corner in his New York neighborhood while he was walking to school. A photo of Etan, taken by his professional photographer father, generated national and international media attention and became a symbol of the missing children movement. In 1983 President Ronald Reagan proclaimed May 25 as National Missing Children’s Day.
As the public awareness about the problem of missing and abducted children increased globally, observance of May 25 as Missing Children’s Day expanded outside the U.S. In 2001, May 25 was first observed as International Missing Children’s Day through the efforts of ICMEC, Missing Children Europe and the European Commission.
This year, there will be International Missing Children’s Day observances and activities in at least 17 member countries of the Global Missing Children’s Network: Albania; Australia; Belarus; Belgium; Brazil; Canada; Germany; Greece; Italy; Mexico; Netherlands; New Zealand; Poland; Romania; Russia; South Korea and the United Kingdom. In addition, India, Pakistan, Portugal, Serbia and Taiwan are commemorating the day as well.
GLOBAL MISSING CHILDREN’S NETWORK
In 1998, ICMEC created the Global Missing Children’s Network (GMCN), a multilingual database featuring photographs and information about missing children from around the world. The GMCN is comprised of websites that feed into a central multilingual database. Members are trained and given access to the website which enables them to customize their countries websites to meet individual needs; link to the GMCN and access the database to display information and photographs of missing children in their countries; and create missing children posters quickly and easily. The GMCN also provides technical training for new countries joining the network as well as providing forensic imaging (age progression) training for local investigators. To date, 22 countries participate in the GMCN: Albania, Argentina, Australia, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.
In 2009, as a part of International Missing Children’s Day, ICMEC began promoting a unified global message, focusing on the member countries of the Global Missing Children’s Network. In partnership with the Australian Federal Police, ICMEC provides member countries with information and materials, and promotes a special site, www.helpbringthemhome.org.au. The symbol for International Missing Children’s Day is the forget-me-not flower.