“The only choice we have is between life and death. I could’ve died of starvation, lack of sanitation, or have been killed. I was afraid but turning back was never an option because the traffickers force you to risk your life and to keep going”

Dilal, refugee from Bangladesh  


A child is reported missing every 2 minutes in Europe. To understand why children go missing and if prevention and support responses are effective, Missing Children Europe analyses and launches the Figure and Trends on missing children report every year.

The data is collected from the Cross-Border Family Mediators’ network and the European network of  hotlines for missing children available through the 116 000 number. In 2018, 26 – out of 32 – hotlines answered 91 655 calls and supported 9 115 missing children, marking a 15% increase in the number of children supported. 1 in 7 cases were cross-border in nature and 23% of the children reported missing had faced situations of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. Children running away witnessed the majority of violence at 36.

In 2018, children running away or thrown out of home made up 58.2% of missing children cases reported to hotlines, consistently making them the largest group of children who go missing. The most common reasons why children ran away were because of problems at home, because they experienced abuse or exploitation and because of problems at school. 28% of all runaway children reported to hotlines ran away more than once. 9 runaway children were found deceased in 2018 while a further 4% were not found within the year.

Missing children hotlines also continued to provide support to 2 624 ongoing missing children cases opened before 2018. Of the cases closed in 2018, 64% concerned ongoing cases from previous years showing the importance of dedicated follow up. Where the investigation outcomes were known, missing children were most often found by the police (42%) though a significant proportion of children returned on their own (30%). In 20% of cases, publicity appeals and child alert systems played an important role in finding missing children.

Children abducted by a parent have continued to make up the second largest group of missing children at 19.2% of cases. Among parental abduction cases, 18% of children were returned to the left behind parent within the year. 1.2% of these children were however found deceased, showing a very troubling consequence which could include violence against or neglect of abducted children. This shows the importance of prevention and cross-border family mediation, where the focus is not necessarily on returning the child but on resolving the underlying family conflict. 74.5% of mediation cases worked on by the network of Cross-Border Family Mediators related to abductions between either one or more EU countries. Fathers were responsible for 44% of parental abductions, a trend that has been increasing consistently over the last years, according to a statistical analysis.

77% of missing children in migration reported were unaccompanied children. The most common reasons why children in migration went missing, in 2018, included a lack of trust in the system, the process taking too long, inadequate or inappropriate shelter facilities for children and wanting to leave with friends. Overall, only 25% of these children were found within the year. Unfortunately, while external data suggests that 30 000 children in migration have gone missing between 2014 – 2017, often very few of these cases are reported to hotlines or the police, which prevents us from understanding the full scope of the problem. Based on Child Focus, many unaccompanied children who disappear undergo traumatic experiences; are subject to unsafe living conditions, child trafficking and exploitation; have no family network; and are in need of psychological care.

0.6% of cases relate to criminal or third-party abductions. The data from 2018 shows that over 44% of third party abductions are by another family member or a friend or acquaintance of the family. This shows that even this type of abduction generally happens by someone who the child is familiar with.

Lack of financial resources was ranked as the main challenge faced by the majority of hotlines. Currently, only 39,5% of all funding to the network of hotlines, comes from national governments. 61% of hotlines receiving funding from local and national authorities responded that the funding received was not sufficient to ensure the functioning of the service to the expected quality standards. Missing Children Europe calls on national governments to honour their obligations according to the recent recast of the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC, Art. 96) and step up to fill the gap in funding for hotlines to ensure that missing children and their families continue to receive quality support, anywhere in Europe.

Read the complete Figure and Trends on missing children report here.

About Missing Children Europe

Missing Children Europe is the European federation for missing and sexually exploited children, representing 30 organisations from 26 European countries. We provide the link between research, policies and organisations on the ground to protect children from any kind of violence, abuse or neglect that is caused by or results from them going missing.