Together towards a Common European Approach on Missing Children and Missing Persons.
Every year, 600.000 people go missing in Europe. Half of whom are children. Even though these numbers are staggering, missing is still ‘missing’ on the EU agenda. We want to change this.
Together with the Police Expert Network on Missing Persons, we have devised the Common European Approach on Missing Children and Missing Persons (CEA), a European-wide strategy supported by 4 pillars, that will help prevent children from going missing and ensure that appropriate action is taken if a child does go missing.
The CEA follows our 5-point Plan , which included 5 key points to better the protection of missing children in Europe. In 2016, A great majority of 465 Members of the European Parliament from all 28 Member States and all 9 political groups supported the 5-point Plan.
The 4 Pillars of the Common European Approach
Missing Persons Risk Triage: immediate risk identification of missing children saves lives
When a missing child is reported to the police, law enforcement agencies should make a timely assessment to qualify or disqualify risk for the life or well-being of the missing child. This risk assessment is crucial to determine which steps need to be taken to successfully recover the child. Under-reaction can result in serious harm or death to the child. Over-reaction and doing too much is wasteful of resources and potentially an unwarranted intrusion on a child’s privacy.
Enhanced cross-border law enforcement cooperation in missing children cases
With the abolishment of national borders, the Schengen Area, a zone with unrestricted movement of people was created. This also entails that missing children can easily be moved across a border into a neighbouring country. To prevent the investigations from stagnating at the border, resulting in vital time being lost, law enforcement agencies need to be able to quickly communicate and cooperate with their counterparts in other countries. In 2016, this belief resulted in an informal network of law enforcement experts in the field of missing persons. In 2019, this Police Expert Network on Missing Persons (PEN-MP) was officially recognised by the Council of the European Union.
Connecting the public with law enforcement in the search for missing children
In missing children cases, law enforcement frequently reaches out to the public for assistance. In 2008, the European Commission recognised the urgency of the missing children issue and set an objective for all EU Member States to establish an interoperable child alert system that would enable law enforcement agencies to alert their respective public and even coordinate the search across borders. Interoperability, however, has yet to be realised. In fact, currently, only 20 EU Member States have a child alert system for missing children in place. With 37.5% of Europeans living near national borders, protocols must be examined to ensure citizen sourcing in cases of missing children beyond the borders of the originating country.
Preventing children from going missing
Preventing children from going missing consists of two key elements: Firstly, training and awareness-building of key stakeholders to reduce the number of children going missing. Secondly, determining the reason a child has gone missing to prevent children from going missing again. Law enforcement agencies are aware that when a child goes missing, it can be a strong indicator of underlying problems such as abuse, sexual exploitation, gender issues, and trafficking. If a child returns and these issues remain unrecognised and untreated, often children go missing again. In order to prevent this re-victimisation, it is imperative that the risk to the missing child is identified as well as the origins of this risk. Not only does this lead to a reduction in the number of incidents, or reoccurring incidents, of children going missing; it also helps law enforcement agencies identify and address any associated criminal activity.