Home runaways, the disappearance of unaccompanied children in global migrations, parental and criminal abductions are the most common causes of the disappearance of children. NGO ASTRA provides professional assistance and support in connection with all reported cases. Last nine years, ASTRA is managing a unique EUROPEAN NUMBER FOR MISSING CHILDREN 116000 in Serbia: the only accredited SOS telephone of its kind in Serbia, obtained in cooperation with Missing Children Europe’s international organization. Urgent reporting of children’s disappearances is crucial for quick and adequate reactions. Upon receiving a call reporting a disappearance of a child, ASTRA provides immediate action, which includes assistance to the police in the search and support to the family whose child went missing. The ASTRA SOS European Telephone for Missing Children is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and calls from all Serbian networks are free.
It is estimated that 200,000 children go missing in Europe every year. In 2020, European Lines for Missing Children 116 000 recorded 42,662 calls, which were related to 8,857 cases of missing children (17% more than last year). A large part of the call referred to children who ran away from home, 53%, followed by parental abductions, and only 3.6% of calls were related to children missing in migration. From its establishment in March 2012 until the end of 2020, ASTRA’s European number for missing children received 3350 calls. Those calls were related to 120 missing children cases (71 girls and 49 boys). During the last year, there were 382 calls, and 8 cases of missing children were registered – six girls and two boys. Five of these children have been found, and the search for others continues.
The only official European report about missing children is outdated and dates back almost ten years. Due to the lack of official statistics on missing children, since 2014, Missing Children Europe has been collecting and analyzing 116 000 SOS missing child data lines reports. Missing Children Europe (MCE) publishes these annual reports on May 25 each year. Using this opportunity, MCE encourages EU institutions, Member States and the general public to raise awareness of 116 000 SOS lines in each country individually. The MCE report for 2020 will be available at this link after May 25 https://missingchildreneurope.eu/annual-reports/.
On International Day of Missing Children 2020, ASTRA appeals and points out that it is urgently necessary to:
- Develop official consolidated statistics, a database or register of missing children at the state level, which would, where possible, provide insight into the development and status of the investigation.
- Provide financial support from state funds to SOS lines licensed by the state, including ASTRA’s 116 000 SOS line, which has been operating voluntarily since its launch in 2012.
- Introduce technological innovations to speed up the response to the disappearance of children and increase the possibility of finding them, e.g. introduction of the Child Alert System. Such systems enable early alerting of the public and thus the more successful finding of a missing child. The introduction of this system is a demanding and expensive endeavour cause the design should cover the entire country and be linked to similar foreign systems. However, the information collected in this way is crucial to the investigation conducted by the Ministry of the Interior.
- Improve cross-sectoral cooperation, using the knowledge and resources of the NGO sector, which has years of experience in this area and is linked to international organizations dealing with this problem. Also, it is necessary to establish precise rules of interoperability.