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Missing children

Figures from associations such as “The Children’s Society” or “Missing Kids” indicate that in the UK, in less than 5 minutes, a child will go missing.

 Madeleine McCann.Nuria Riutord

Many cases become tremendously well known, even on a global scale. This was the case with the little girl Madeleine McCann. Only a small percentage becomes as popular amongst the general public. Behind each disappearance there is a whole world and personal situations that we cannot understand.

Recently, the country was shocked by the loss of another little girl, barely 4-years-old, April Jones. Although nobody knows the location of her body, on this occasion the person responsible was found. Mark Bridger is on remand for presumably killing the child after picking her up in his van.

It is undeniable that the circumstances surrounding the high profile disappearances of these two children have been very different.

In the case of the McCanns’ daughter she was kidnapped sleeping with her siblings in a hotel room in Portugal. The young girl from Wales, on the other hand, was last seen getting into a vehicle when she was playing in the street next to her house with some friends.

There are many organisations, police bodies and different agencies that work in this area. One of them is the National Police Improvement Agency, NPIA. According to their archives in the period 2010-2011, almost 540,000 disappearances were registered in England and Wales. This equates to more than 5 for each 1000 inhabitants, given that the population exceeds 55.2 million inhabitants.

If these figures are compared to those in Scotland they are somewhat lower. There, almost 39,000 disappearances were filed. In a population of more than 5.2 million people, that is more than 7 per 1000 people.

If we concentrate on the age groups, more than 20,000 girls between the ages of 12–14 disappeared. The same happened with around 17,000 boys of the same age.

However, the figures from the NPIA state that the greatest number of child disappearances occur within the band that covers 15-17 year olds. In the case of girls there are almost 5 in each 1000. Among boys, the number doesn’t quite reach 3 per 1000.

This is due to a tremendously complex stage in adolescence. Young people feel independent, and they are able to carry out unrestricted actions, as an adult would do.

On the other hand, in many aspects they continue to be dependent on someone, usually older than them, whether that be economically, legally or socially.

The different personal circumstances (mostly related to family or college) that surround the development process into adulthood lead many teenagers to run away from home, or disappear.

Romantic relationships with an adult may also result in this situation. This was the case a few months ago with Megan Stammers, a young girl of 15-years-old who after having a romance with a teacher from her college eloped with him to France. The couple were returned to the UK within a few weeks.

Runaway cases do not always end with the return of the child to their home, as in the case of Megan, and according to The Children’s Society some 100,000 children under the age of 16 decide to run away from home each year. A small percentage finds themselves forced to live on the streets.

The greatest worry for the associations that work in this area is that children often choose dangerous places to spend the night.

The figures from “The Social Exclusion Unit” point out that the majority decide to sleep in fields, gardens, or public transport stations. A large proportion of them do not usually leave their city and one in eight run away three times or more. According to information collected by the BBC, 25% of the children that run away are under the age of 11 and 7% are no older than 8-years-old. In reference to ethnicity, those of white ethnicity dominate the most cases. The same source asserts that 14% suffer some sort of abuse on their escape from home.

The Home Office has conducted studies with the intention of determining the different types of situations that result in a child leaving home. Around 800 police files were examined.

In 56% of cases a person unknown to the child was involved. Of these nearing 450 cases only 72 resulted in the definitive disappearance of the child. In 23% of cases examined, one of the parents was responsible for the disappearance of the child. In general it concerns situations in which there was a dispute regarding the parental custody of the child.

The Home Office deems it appropriate to arrive at the conclusion that a large proportion of kidnappings that occur in the hands of someone alien to the victim’s environment come about with the intention of some type of sexual abuse.

The most common action, according to its registers, would be that of a male aggressor who pulls the child into a vehicle, or that simply picks them up from a very busy public place.

The system that is put into place before these situations is the Child Rescue Alert, a combined response on behalf of the NPIA, the police and the media.

The common objective is to bring details related to the disappearance of the child to the general public as quickly as possible.

As a form of prevention, many are working towards trying to sensitise young people to the magnitude of the problem through different social-character classes that are taught in schools.

Oliver Twist.There are many organisations that work towards helping the affected people and families. Missing People, Missing Kids or Children Society are some of the main ones. Missing People, founded in 1992, has almost 3 million visits to their web page per week.

Their work is principally based on collaborating with the police bodies responsible for the investigation. They are in charge of bringing knowledge of the cases to the public and they pass on all the information that arrives with them through their 24-hour free telephone service.

Either way, regarding the disappearance of young people, the information is not coordinated or centralised in any way. The “Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre” (CEOP) criticise that the methods used on a local, national and international level are very different in the different police forces and other agencies and services involved. This means that it is more difficult to effectively attack the problem head on.

(Translated by Eleanor Gooch – Email:

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