A missing person is a person who has disappeared and whose status as alive or dead cannot be confirmed as their location and fate is 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 and long-lasting for family and friends.
A person may be missing due to their own decision, accident, crime, death in a location where they cannot be found (such as at sea), or many other reasons. 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.
People disappear for many reasons. Some individuals choose to disappear alone; most of these soon return. Reasons for non-identification may include:
- To escape domestic abuse, such as child physical abuse, emotional 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.
- To avoid war or persecution during a genocide.
- To escape famine or natural disaster.
Categories of missing children
- 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. little 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.
Laws and statistics by country
Royal Canadian Mounted Police missing child statistics for a ten-year period show a total of 60,582 missing children in 2007.
As of December 31, 2011, the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) contained 85,158 active missing person records. Juveniles under the age of 18 account for 37,371 (43.9%) of the records and 9,832 (11.5%) were for adults between the ages of 18 and 20.
During 2011, 678,860 missing person records were entered into NCIC, a decrease of 2.0% from the 692,944 records entered in 2010. Missing person records cleared or canceled during the same period totaled 679,511. Reasons for these removals include a law enforcement agency located the subject, the individual returned home, or the record had to be removed by the entering agency due to a determination that it is invalid.
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 only 2-5% of cases.
Background and statistics
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 116000 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.
International statistics and efforts
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.
- AMBER Alert
- Code Adam
- Cold case
- Declared death in absentia
- Forced disappearance
- International child abduction
- International Day of the Disappeared
- List of people who disappeared mysteriously
- Mattie's Call
- Missing Kids Website
- National Missing Children's Day
- Unexplained disappearances
- Unreported missing
- Preston Sparks and Timothy Cox (November 17, 2008). "Missing persons usually found". Augusta Chronicle. Retrieved May 21, 2011.
- "FAQs: Question: Do you need to wait 24 hours before reporting a person missing?". National Missing Persons Coordination Center, Australian Federal Police. Retrieved May 22, 2011.
- "Statistics". Canadian Missing Children Reports Summary For A Ten Year Period. Royal Canadian Mounted Police. 22 December 2008. Retrieved 18 June 2012.
- "National Crime Information Center". The Federal Bureau of Investigations. U.S. Federal Government, U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
- "NCIC Missing Person and Unidentified Person Statistics for 2007". National Crime Information Center’s (NCIC) Missing Person File (Federal Bureau of Investigations). U.S. Federal Government, U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
- "Restoring Family Links - Missing Persons and their Families". Familylinks.icrc.org. Retrieved 2014-06-26.
- "National Monument to Missing People". Missing Irish People WS (WebSite). MISSING.WS. Retrieved 18 June 2012.
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- LostNMissing Inc
- National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs.gov)
- Familylinks.icrc.org Website for people looking for family members missing due to a conflict or natural disaster. International Committee of the Red Cross.
- Black & Missing Foundation website exclusively dedicated to missing Persons of Color
- Data Missing on Missing Children
- Missing persons Inter-Parliamentary Union, International Committee of the Red Cross, 2009
- Missing people directory in the UK
- Kenneth Hill. The Psychology of Lost