A missing person is a person who has disappeared and whose status as alive or dead cannot be confirmed as his or her location and fate are not known. Laws related to missing persons are often complex since, in many jurisdictions, relatives and third parties may not deal with a person's assets until their death is considered proven by law and a formal death certificate issued. The situation, uncertainties, and lack of closure or a funeral resulting when a person goes missing may be extremely painful with long-lasting effects on family and friends.
A person may go missing due to accident, crime, death in a location where they cannot be found (such as at sea), or many other reasons, including voluntary disappearance. In some countries, missing persons' photographs are posted on bulletin boards, milk cartons, postcards, and websites, to publicize their description.
A child may go missing for several different reasons. When trying to understand how to find and protect missing children, it is important to analyse the causes and effects of a child's disappearance. While criminal abductions are often the most commonly publicised cases of missing children, it only represents between 2–5% of missing children in Europe. Many categories of missing children end up in the hands of traffickers forced into sexual or commercial exploitation and abuse.
A number of organizations seek to connect, share best practices, and disseminate information and images of missing children to improve the effectiveness of missing children investigations, including the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC), as well as national centers, including the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in the US, Child Focus in Belgium, and The Smile of the Child in Greece.
People disappear for many reasons. Some individuals choose to disappear alone. Reasons for non-identification may include:To escape domestic abuse by a parent(s)/guardian(s)/sibling(s)/spouse.
Leaving home to live somewhere else under a new identity.
Becoming the victim of kidnapping.
Abduction (of a minor) by a non-custodial parent or other relative.
Seizure by government officials without due process of law.
Suicide in a remote location or under an assumed name (to spare their families the suicide at home or to allow their deaths to be eventually declared in absentia).
Victim of murder (body disguised, destroyed, or hidden).
Mental illness or other ailments such as Alzheimer's Disease can cause someone to become lost or they may not know how to identify themselves due to long-term memory loss that causes them to forget where they live, the identity of family members or relatives, or their own names.
Death by natural causes (disease) or accident far from home without identification.
Disappearance to take advantage of better employment or living conditions elsewhere.
Sold into slavery, serfdom, sexual servitude, or other unfree labour.
To avoid discovery of a crime or apprehension by law-enforcement authorities. (See also failure to appear.)
Joining a cult or other religious organization that requires no contact to the outside world.
To avoid war or persecution during a genocide.
To escape famine or natural disaster.
Death by floods, flash floods, debris flows, hurricanes and tsunamis.
Death in the water, with no body recovered.
Runaways (national / international): Minors who run away from home, from the institution where they have been placed, or from the people responsible for their care.
Abduction by a third person: Abduction of minors by anyone other than the parents or the persons with parental authority.
National or international parental abduction: Parental abductions are cases where a child is taken to or kept in a country or place other than that of his/her normal residence by one or more parents or persons with parental authority, against another parent's will or against the will of the person with parental authority.
Missing unaccompanied migrant minors: Disappearances of migrant children, nationals of a country in which there is no free movement of persons, under the age of 18 who have been separated from both parents and are not being cared for by an adult, who by law is responsible for doing so.
Lost, injured or otherwise missing children: Disappearances for no apparent reason of minors who got lost (e.g. young children at the seaside in summer) or hurt themselves and cannot be found immediately (e.g. accidents during sport activities, at youth camps, etc.), as well as children whose reason for disappearing has not yet been determined.
A common misconception is that a person must be absent for at least 24 hours before being legally classed as missing, but this is rarely the case; in instances where there is evidence of violence or of an unusual absence, law enforcement agencies often stress the importance of beginning an investigation promptly.
In most common law jurisdictions a missing person can be declared dead in absentia (or "legally dead") after seven years. This time frame may be reduced in certain cases, such as deaths in major battles or mass disasters such as the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The Wall Street Journal reported in 2012 that: "It is estimated that some 8 million children go missing around the world each year." The BBC News reported that of the children who go missing worldwide, "while usually the child is found quickly the ordeal can sometimes last months, even years."
Royal Canadian Mounted Police missing child statistics for a ten-year period show a total of 60,582 missing children in 2007.
The founder of Jamaica's Hear the Children's Cry, child-rights advocate Betty Ann Blaine, asked the government to introduce missing-children legislation in Jamaica. She said in May 2015: "Jamaica is facing a crisis of missing children. Every single month, we have approximately 150 reports of children who go missing. That is a crisis because we are only 2.7 million people." She said her organization would work with the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC) to recommend a model law to the Parliament of Jamaica.
In the United Kingdom, The Huffington Post reported in 2012, over 140,000 children go missing each year, as calculated by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) of the United Kingdom's National Crime Agency.
In the United States, 800,000 children were going missing annually according to a 2002 government study. These figures have been widely circulated in the popular press.
As the findings from the 2002 Second National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART–2) study summary by the US Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) indicate, a child can be missing for many reasons, including "Nonfamily abductions", "Family abductions," "Runaway/thrownaway episodes," "Missing involuntary, lost, or injured events," and "Missing benign explanation situations." NISMART–2 defined a missing child both with regard to children who were missing from their caretakers, and children who were missing from their caretakers and reported to an agency for assistance locating the missing children. NISMART–2 considered a child as missing "when the child experienced a qualifying episode during which the child's whereabouts were unknown to the primary caretaker, with the result that the caretaker was alarmed for at least 1 hour and tried to locate the child. For an episode to qualify, the child had to be younger than 18 and the situation had to meet the specific criteria for one of the [above] NISMART–2 episode types." The study was based on data derived from four NISMART–2 studies – a Law Enforcement Study, National Household Surveys of both Adult Caretakers and Youth (using computer-aided telephone interviewing methodology), and a Juvenile Facilities Study. The study summary noted that "it is important to recognize that nearly all of the caretaker missing children (1,312,800 or 99.8 percent) were returned home alive or located by the time the study data were collected. Only a fraction of a percent (0.2 percent or 2,500) of all caretaker missing children had not returned home or been located, and the vast majority of these were runaways from institutions ...."
The United States' National Crime Information Center (NCIC) of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, mandated by the National Child Search Assistance Act, maintains its own "Missing Person File" to which local police report people for whom they are searching. The NCIC "Missing Person File" does have a category that is entitled "Juvenile" or "EMJ", but that category does not reflect the total number of all juveniles reported missing to the NCIC, for whom local police are searching. The NCIC also uses its own classification criteria; it does not use the above NISMART definitions of what constitutes a missing child. The NCIC data is limited to individuals who have been reported to the NCIC as missing, and are being searched for, by local police. In addition, the EMJ category does not contain all reports of juveniles who have been reported missing to the NCIC. While the EMJ category holds records of some of the juveniles reported missing, the totals for the EMJ category excludes those juveniles recorded missing but who "have a proven physical or mental disability ... are missing under circumstances indicating that they may be in physical danger ... are missing after a catastrophe ... [or] are missing under circumstances indicating their disappearance may not have been voluntary". In 2013, the NCIC entered 445,214 "EMJ" reports (440,625 in the EMJ category under the age of 18; but 462,567 under the age of 18 in all categories, and 494,372 under the age of 21 in all categories), and NCIC's total reports numbered 627,911. Of the children under age 18, a total of 4,883 reports were classified as "missing under circumstances indicating that the disappearance may not have been voluntary, i.e., abduction or kidnapping" (9,572 under age 21), and an additional 9,617 as "missing under circumstances indicating that his/her physical safety may be in danger" (15,163 under age 21). The total missing person records entered into NCIC were 661,593 in 2012, 678,860 in 2011 (550,424 of whom were under 21), 692,944 in 2010 (531,928 of whom were under 18, and 565,692 of whom were under 21), and 719,558 in 2009. A total of 630,990 records were cleared or canceled during 2013. At end-of-year 2013, NCIC had 84,136 still-active missing person records, with 33,849 (40.2%) being of juveniles under 18, and 9,706 (11.5%) being of juveniles between 18 and 20.
250,000 children are reported missing every year in Europe. The 3 largest group of missing children are runaways (50–60%) followed by parental abductions (25–30%) and missing unaccompanied migrant minors (2–10%). Criminal third party abductions make up 2–5% of cases.
116 000 is the European hotline for missing children active in 26 countries in the EU as well as Albania and Serbia. The hotline was an initiave pushed for by Missing Children Europe, the European federation for missing and sexually exploited children and realised through the European insititutions.
The Council of Europe estimates that about 1 in 5 children in Europe are victims of some form of sexual violence. In 70% to 85% of cases, the abuser is somebody the child knows and trusts. Child sexual violence can take many forms: sexual abuse within the family circle, child pornography and prostitution, corruption, solicitation via Internet and sexual assault by peers. In some of the cases, with no other available option, children flee their homes and care institutions, in search of a better and safer life.
Of the 50–60% of child runaways reported by the 116 000 European missing children hotline network, 1 in 6 are assumed to rough sleep on the run, 1 in 8 resort to stealing to survive and 1 in 4 children are at serious risk of some form of abuse. The number of rough sleeping children across Europe is on the rise. These runaways fall into vulnerable situations of sexual abuse, alcohol abuse and drug abuse leading to depression. Runaways are 9 times likelier to have suicidal tendencies than other children. The Children's Society published a report in 2011 on recommendations to the government to keep child runaways safe.
The issue of child disappearances is increasingly recognized as a concern for national and international policy makers especially in cross border abduction cases, organized child trafficking and child pornography as well as the transient nature of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum.
According to the UNHCR, over 15,000 unaccompanied and separated children claimed asylum in the European Union, Norway and Switzerland in 2009. The precarious situation of these children makes them particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses, rendering their protection critical, given the high risks to which they are exposed. Most of these children are boys aged 14 years and over, with diverse ethnic, cultural, religious and social backgrounds mainly originating from Afghanistan, Somalia, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea and Iraq.
Among exploiters taking advantage of the children, are sometimes their own relatives who gain benefit in the form of social and/or family allowances. According to research done by Frontex, some types of threats faced by unaccompanied migrant minors include sexual exploitation in terms of pornography, prostitution and the internet; economic exploitation including forced donation of organs; criminal exploitation including drug smuggling and child trafficking including forced marriage and begging.
Criminal networks are heavily involved with human trafficking to the EU and this includes also exploitation of minors as manpower in the sex trade and other criminal activities. According to a 2007 UNICEF report on Child Trafficking in Europe, 2 million children are being trafficked in Europe every year. Child trafficking occurs in virtually all countries in Europe. There is no clear-cut distinction between countries of origin and destination in Europe. Trafficking in children has been perceived mainly in connection with sexual exploitation, but the reality is much more complex. Children in Europe are also trafficked for exploitation through labour, domestic servitude, begging, criminal activities and other exploitative purposes.
In the report, UNICEF also warns that there is a dramatic absence of harmonized and systematic data collection, analysis and dissemination at all levels without which countries lack important evidence that informs national policies and responses. Missing Children Europe, the European federation for missing children, aims to meet this need. MCE will launch a harmonized case management and data collection software for the 116 000 European hotline network for missing children in 2014. The hotline is currently operational is 25 EU MS. The CRM system is expected to have a clear impact on the way hotlines are able to work together and collect data on the problem of missing children.
The British Asylum Screening Unit estimated that 60% of the unaccompanied minors accommodated in social care centres in the UK go missing and are not found again. In the UK these open centres, from where minors are able to call their traffickers, act as 'human markets' for the facilitators and traffickers who generally collect their prey within 24 hours of arrival in the UK. According to the CIA out of the 800,000 people trafficked annually across national borders in the world, up to 50% are minors.
The United Nations is operating a Commission on Missing Persons that serves as an international coordination center and provides also statistical material regarding missing persons worldwide. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement strives to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing persons when loss of contact is due to armed conflict or other situations of violence; natural or man-made disaster; migration and in other situations of humanitarian need. It is also supporting the families of missing persons to rebuild their social lives and find emotional well-being.
On May 26, 2002, a monument to missing persons was unveiled in County Kilkenny, Republic of Ireland by President Mary McAleese. It was the first monument of its kind in the world.