Finding Europe’s missing children
Missing Children Europe, in collaboration with the President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society and other stakeholders, have united their efforts to organise a conference focusing on children lost in migration.
Held during the term of our country’s presidency of the Council of the European Union, the conference presents us with the opportunity to highlight the future of migrant children and their families, many of whom are fleeing from situations of persecution, violence, and precarity.
We cannot stand idly by while children are exposed to increased danger, as a direct result of our current systems’ fragmented responses. We cannot accept a status quo that is failing to deliver the security and the wellbeing of all children, in a spirit of equity and justice.
The upcoming conference will create a powerful space where European experts, across the fields of child protection, social services, migration, law enforcement and civil society, will discuss the responsibilities we all share to the wellbeing of migrant children.
We shall also listen to the firsthand experiences of unaccompanied children. There can be no holistic and meaningful transformation of our responses to migration without respectful dialogue with those who are most affected.
The statistics on this issue are a cause for grave concern. Europol estimates that 27 per cent of last year’s arrivals, fleeing situations of war, of environmental devastation, and extreme poverty, were children. No less than 10,000 unaccompanied children are now unaccounted for, which means that we have lost all trace of an estimated 10,000 children.
Unaccompanied children are more exposed to exploitation, and are targets of sexual violence and contemporary forms of slavery. According to the UN Office of the Special Rapporteur on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, children are particularly affected by a rise in human trafficking across Europe. Children are taken advantage of, with deceptive promises of a better and safer future.
Furthermore, we are all aware of the strain that is placed on countries of arrival, as a response to the unfolding global refugee tragedy. Thirty-eight per cent of the migrants who arrived in Greece since January 2016 are children, while 91 per cent of the population of children who arrived in Italy were unaccompanied.
Children most often go missing because of underlying protection problems, including poor reception conditions, a lack of information and unwieldy procedures for family reunification. Each of these issues can be addressed, if we show strong leadership and motivate the political will and the social conscience necessary to make a difference.
I believe that we must commit ourselves to providing relevant training for professionals, so that they can effectively identify and mitigate the risks faced by children. We must focus on increased collaboration across borders, implementing our good practices consistently and efficiently.
Above all, let us nurture the work of civil society alongside national and transnational authorities. We have seen that the current lack of coordination has created inconsistency, making it more difficult for professionals to do their job while also producing a situation where children fall through the cracks and go missing.
Therefore, we need a single European strategy that can produce sustainable and consistent results, with each Member State working in a coordinated way to achieve our shared objective.
Our objective must always be safeguarding the dignity and wellbeing of every child. The Maltese presidency of the Council of the EU has placed migration high on its agenda. Let us therefore ensure that this priority also includes an EU action plan, at the highest possible level, to make sure that all children receive the care that is their due.
Let us be active guardians of the rights, and true upholders of our responsibilities, which are enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by our country in 1990.
We must build on our achievements, which include the EU Action Plan on Unaccompanied Migrants, the recent EU Forum on the Rights of the Child, and the relocation plan proposed by the European Commission. We must keep up this momentum, supporting the implementation of our initiatives.
We must act courageously, even in the face of aggressive anti-immigration rhetoric and its tendency to scapegoat the victim, and turn a blind eye to the suffering of the vulnerable.
Our communities and societies must be open to the transformative power of sustainable peace; our institutions must be trusted instruments, which promote meaningful wellbeing; and we must all be active champions of solidarity and respect.
Let us call for the change that is so deeply needed in our Union, to ensure that the dignity of all children is respected. Let us do all that we can to prevent even a single child from being lost in migration, by creating a united European and international approach to migration that protects the precious potential of all our children.