International Missing Children's Day, 25 May, is a day where people around the world commemorate the 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. The symbol for International Missing Children's Day is the forget-me-not flower.
The main purpose of International Missing Children's Day is to encourage everyone to think about children who remain missing and to spread a message of hope.
The observance of May 25 as Missing Children's Day began in the United States in 1983. In 2001, May 25 was first observed as International Missing Children's Day through the efforts of the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC), Missing Children Europe and the European Commission.
In the UK, a child is reported missing every three minutes. Sadly, research suggests that even more children are going missing but not being reported as missing to the police; this could be as many as one every minute. With one in five of these children potentially being sexually exploited, it is important we all do everything we can to prevent this, and ensure those children know where to turn if they feel they have no choice but to go missing.
To mark IMCD 2015, the National Crime Agency wants to highlight the vital importance of partnerships and collaborative working in order to safeguard the vulnerable children who go missing.
It is estimated that 306,000 reports of missing people are made to British Police every year, the majority of which (approximately 195,000) relate to children and young people under the age of 18 (Source: NC (2014) 'Missing Persons: Data and Analysis 2012/2013'). Some of these children will go missing more than once, and it is recognised that going missing can be an indicator of serious harm being done to that child.
There have been a number of reports published in the UK which highlight the link between going missing and child sexual exploitation, including:
Within these reports it is evident that it is vital that all agencies, including the police, statutory services and charities, work together to share information and identify those at risk. The need for prompt and effective information sharing, not just between agencies but also through sharing concerns with the public, has also been highlighted in the high profile cases involving children travelling, or attempting to travel, to conflict zones such as Syria.
Last year on 25th May, the NCA and Missing People formally launched our new service to engage the public in the safe return of the most vulnerable children through the Child Rescue Alert system. CRA, managed with the help of our commercial partner Groupcall, allows the police to quickly and easily publish appeals for high risk missing children with the aim of recovering them quickly and safely. In addition to utilising the press, members of the public can sign up to receive these alerts direct to their mobile phone, and since it’s launch over 287,000 have signed up to do so.
Additionally, organisations have been signing up on mass to join the initiative. Wiltshire Police has already signed all of their work mobile phones up to receive these alerts, and a number of other police forces are in the process of doing this. The Royal Mail has also signed up for their 124,000 postal workers to receive the alerts to their hand-held devices, as well as ensuring the alerts go out across their internal website and television screens. These partnerships are increasing our opportunity to save the lives of children, but more can be done.
This year on IMCD, the NCA reinforced the importance of this partnership with Missing People by supporting the Big Tweet. The Big Tweet for Missing Children harnesses the power of Twitter to help find missing children by issuing appeals every 30 minutes for 24 hours. They aim for as many people as possible to RT these appeals, and this year the appeal received 92,000 retweets.
The month of May and International Missing Children’s Day is an opportunity to focus on those children who remain missing and spread a message of hope. We are asking members of the public to spend some time considering not only what they can do to support the search for children who go missing, through signing up to receive the alerts, but how we can work together to stop children going missing. Whether you are a parent of a young child, a carer to a young person, a family member or a friend, there are some signs you can look out for which may indicate a child or young person is at risk of going missing. If you think they may be at risk, talk to them. It may not be easy, but reaching out and letting them know that they have a choice can be an important step in preventing them from running away. We have created a document for parents and carers that you may find useful.
Professionals who work with children also have an important role to play. Sharing information is a critical but sometimes challenging step in ensuring these children are safeguarded. Too many recent reports have highlighted instances where agencies have missed the opportunity to intervene by failing to listen to children and failing to share the information. A collaborative approach to identifying those children at risk has significant benefits, as the information will not be held by one agency alone.
A recent cross-agency collaboration between the Metropolitan Police Service and Croydon Council demonstrates the value of this multi-agency working. Assisted by the NCA, intelligence held by both agencies as well as the wider police community was utilised to identify 10 young girls believed to be at significant risk. Once identified, steps were taken to support and safeguard these girls, and further investigation led to the arrest of individuals involved in exploiting these girls. The work also highlighted the need to raise awareness of the indicators and consequences of exploitation, and regular ‘Make Safe Days’ have begun to ensure professionals and the public know how to spot and respond to signs suggesting children are at risk.
Similar initiatives are being implemented across the country, but more needs to be done to ensure we are all working together to safeguard these children. A first simple step could be to sign up to receive Child Rescue Alert messages, and ensure you know the warning signs (link to document).
Approximately 200,000 incidents of children going missing or absent are reported to the police each year.
Over the past six years, the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC) has brought together more than 20 countries from around the world to commemorate International Missing Children’s Day on May 25. Through unified national events, countries bring global attention to missing children – those who have been found as well as those who have not yet been recovered.
In the United States, it is estimated that 1 in 6 runaways reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children will end up a victim of child sex trafficking. The longer a child is missing, the higher the risk he or she faces.
“We, as responsible adults, should be aware of the issues that put children at risk and do all we can to help keep them as safe as possible,” says Ambassador Maura Harty (ret.), President and CEO of ICMEC. “We all need to be champions working together to protect each and every child. One child harmed is one child too many.”
Every person has a role to play in the protection of children, providing them with a safer environment that insulates them against these risks. This year, in honour of International Missing Children’s Day, ICMEC’s social media platforms will focus on highlighting the issues of missing children and child abduction, and the ways in which we all can contribute to bringing missing children home. This month-long campaign will provide safety tips for parents and children, and showcase the good work of ICMEC’s 23-member-strong Global Missing Children’s Network.
Launched by ICMEC in 1998, the Global Missing Children’s Network (GMCN) is comprised of multiple websites that feed into a central, multilingual database that features information about and photographs of missing children. The GMCN also provides technical training for member countries and an annual training on current investigative trends, tools and best practices. To date, 23 countries participate in the GMCN: Albania, Argentina, Australia, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. For more information visit internationalmissingchild.org.