Missing Children: Kate's Message

It is only since Madeleine was taken from us, that Gerry and myself have become aware of just how many children go missing each year from all around the world. The scale of the problem is huge. In fact, it is terrifying. I have asked myself many times "why did I not know about this? Am I that naive or is it the fact that the problem itself is not well publicised for whatever reason?"

It is impossible to give a number for the amount of children that go missing but suffice to say it is hundreds of thousands. This includes ‘runaway’ children, parental/family abductions and ‘stranger’ abductions such as in Madeleine's case. The reason for the lack of precision with regards to number of cases, appears to be that there is as yet (in the UK and many countries throughout Europe at least), no standard method for collecting, recording and categorising data. Without this, it is not possible to implement strategies to tackle the problem - recover children and reunite them with their families as soon as possible. PACT (Parents and Abducted Children Together) is one of the organisations in the UK trying to propose/request such national policies be brought in to place by the Government. Surely our children deserve this?

Madeleine's abduction itself was quite unusual, in that it was the abduction of a ‘foreign national’. This introduced unique difficulties, not least a language barrier. Given that people and families travel quite extensively nowadays particularly within a ‘borderless’ Europe, we believe that a Europe-wide response to the problem is mandatory. I would think that not an unreasonable request of countries belonging to a ‘European Union’?

It is fair to say that the USA is probably at least 20 years ahead when it comes to dealing with the problem of missing and abducted children. NCMEC (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) was founded in 1984 by John and Reve Walsh after they sadly experienced the frustration and lack of effective response available, when their own son, Adam, was abducted and subsequently found murdered in Florida in 1981. NCMEC now offers a vast range of invaluable resources to law enforcement agencies, helping to investigate cases of missing children and child exploitation cases as well as training and education. These resources along with the AMBER Alert system which operates in the USA (a nationwide effort between police departments and the media to blanket local airwaves immediately with information and photograghs when a child is abducted) have led to the safe recovery of many children. Needless to say, the Americans have a great deal of experience and knowledge to offer, and we need to learn from them if we wish to make Europe and the rest of the world a safer place for our children. In recent years, similar ‘Child Rescue Alert’ systems have been introduced in certain European countries- Belgium, France, UK and Greece but we have a long, long way to go.

Gerry and I have been criticised at times for publicising Madeleine's disappearance. We did what we felt was best at that time, obviously having no experience of such ordeals. Thankfully NCMEC has assured us that this was the right thing to do. People have asked (usually in a critical manner) “why has Madeleine received such attention when there are thousands of missing children around the world?” My feeling is that the publicity surrounding Madeleine's abduction was not inappropriate- Every child in such a situation should receive this same amount of attention, but it shouldn't be down to the family to instigate it. The public awareness of Madeleine's plight has at the very least, highlighted cases of other missing children and the extent of the problem as a whole, and from that we can take a small bit of comfort.

All missing children are vulnerable to exploitation including sexual exploitation, with this being the motive in many of those cases of stranger abductions where a motive can be determined. Child sexual exploitation and child pornography in particular, is sadly and shockingly extensive worldwide. It is a multi-billion dollar industry aided by the use of the Internet with the ‘thirst’ for younger victims growing. Once again, my ‘bubble’ of a life burst as I began to discover the facts relating to this now global crisis. As we travelled through Europe in an attempt to raise awareness of Madeleine's abduction and appeal for help, we were repeatedly made aware of the unbelievable existence of such a horrifying activity and its vastness in our so called civilised and ‘child-loving’ society. How can such ‘businesses’ be condoned or tolerated by us all? What are the benefits for our children of being in a European Union where several member countries offer child pornography as a LEGAL past time? The most vulnerable members of our society are our children and they deserve better than this. Lack of sex offender registers, lack of reliable tracking systems for known offenders and no CRB check requirements , not even for those working with children are other major areas of concern within many parts of Europe. My eyes have certainly been opened to a whole new world out there - a very worrying one.

As a parent of an abducted child, I can tell you that it is the most painful and agonising experience you could ever imagine. My thoughts of the fear, confusion and loss of love and security that my precious daughter has had to endure are unbearable - crippling. And yet I am not the victim, Madeleine is. No child should EVER have to experience something so terrible.