Marking International Missing Children's Day 2018

International Missing Children's Day (IMCD) is marked annually on 25 May, honouring missing and abducted children across the globe, while also celebrating those who have been found. The day was first marked in the US in 1983 as National Missing Children's Day as an initiative of US president Ronald Reagan. It was first formally recognised as International Missing Children's Day in 2001, thanks to a joint effort by ICMEC (International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children), Missing Children Europe and the European Commission.

Some interesting facts
According to Missing Children Europe, almost a quarter of a million children are reported missing on a yearly basis in the EU alone. That is to say that, on average, a child is reported missing every two minutes. Why? There are multiple reasons why children go missing among which the most common include runaways, parental or international abductions, missing unaccompanied migrant children, abductions by third parties and lost, injured or otherwise missing children.

Despite these worrisome figures, less than one per cent of the reported cases of missing children are connected to criminal abductions, while 57 per cent of reported cases of missing children were runaways and 23 per cent were parental abductions. While this further breakdown of statistics is slightly encouraging, according to the Council of Europe, one in five children in Europe are victims of some form of sexual violence and according to a UNICEF report, almost two million children are trafficked in Europe every year. The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) which is the UK hotline dealing also with cases of missing children and sexual abuse (and part of the UK Safer Internet Centre (SIC)) reported an unprecedented increase of abuse on disguised websites (an 86 per cent increase).

Insafe and INHOPE
Insafe and INHOPE work together through a network of Safer Internet Centres (SICs) across Europe – typically comprising an awareness centre, helpline, hotline and youth panel - to help make the online world a safer and better place for children and young people. Recognising that online worlds and offline worlds are increasingly converging, the two networks support the day, especially through the helpline and hotline strands of work, with many countries in the network also providing 116 helplines to assist children and adults in need.

Insafe helplines provide information, advice and assistance to children, youth and parents on how to deal with harmful content, harmful contact (such as grooming) and harmful conduct such as (cyberbullying or sexting). Helplines can increasingly be accessed via a variety of means - telephone, email, web forms, Skype, and online chat services. Many of the helplines in the Insafe network are also members of Missing Children Europe and, as such, provide 116 000 helplines, specifically created to report missing children. 116 000 helplines offers guidance and support to parents or relatives of a missing child and can back the efforts of the authorities during investigations. Find out more on the European Commission website, including information on the 27 EU Member States in which the missing children helpline is operational. Find out more about Insafe helplines more generally on the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) portal, including detailed statistics on the key issues which helplines are responding to.

INHOPE hotlines exist to allow members of the public to report illegal content anonymously. Reports are then passed on to the appropriate body for action (internet service provider, Law Enforcement Agency in the country or corresponding INHOPE Association Hotline). You can find out more about this on the INHOPE website.

Throughout 2018, the two networks are supporting the EC in a range of #SaferInternet4EU initiatives, designed to support children, young people, parents, teachers, and other EU citizens to become empowered and responsible digital users. The campaign covers a wide range of topics, such as critical thinking, media literacy and digital skills necessary to identify and combat fake news and the risks brought by emerging online technologies and connected devices; and provide tips on cyber hygiene.

Among the six key topics of the #SaferInternet4EU campaign there is also grooming, thus trying to raise awareness of the dangers young children face when they are not empowered enough to make the most of modern technology. According to the Council of Europe, almost one in five children in Europe are victims of some form of sexual violence, be it sexual abuse within the family circle, child sexual abuse material and sexual exploitation, grooming or sexual assault by peers. Runaway children may leave their homes due to some form of abuse or because they have been groomed and often become victims of sexual exploitation.

To this end, Missing Children Europe supports collaborative projects and legislation to help combat child sexual abuse and exploitation and the Insafe/INHOPE networks have produced a series of resources to prevent and tackle online grooming such as this "Lesson plan (on) grooming, sexting and webcam abuse" (NL), this educational video on how to "Be safe on the internet" (LT), this "Guide to grooming" (GR), this  guide to "Young people's privacy online" (SE), this Romanian app warning kids about the dangers of talking to strangers online called "Jester and the mysterious princess" (RO), this video highlighting the importance of "Careful parents" and this comic book style-guide to grooming in French.

Find out more about the #SaferInternet4EU campaign on the BIK portal or get the latest news by following the #SaferInternet4EU hashtag.

Find out more about International Missing Children's Day on the ICMEC website.

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