The Czech Republic now has a telephone hotline for families of missing children, with a Europe-wide phone number, in partnership with a European network working to help find missing or runaway children and support their families. This week, the non-profit organization Lost Child (Ztracené dítě) received certification to use the 116 000 hotline, which already exists in 22 other European countries.
Although the Czech Republic has already had a national missing children task force for a few years now, the new European hotline introduced on Tuesday offers an international support system to the local efforts. The hotline is meant to handle calls related to lost and missing children, abductions by strangers or family members, unaccompanied foreign minors or even runaways.
Last year, the Czech police was called in to look for more than 5.5 thousand children under the age of 18. The success rate in finding missing children is currently at 98 percent. But the head of the Crime Prevention Department of the Interior Ministry, Jitka Gjuričová, says there also needs to be another line of assistance in these situations.
“The police is there to investigate and solve a case, but officers are not fully trained to speak to the people directly emotionally affected by the developing situation.”
Operators on the unified European 166 000 phone number provide practical and psychological support throughout the search process and even after the child’s return. The Prague-based organization Lost Child has been working on bringing this hotline to the Czech Republic for the past year. Its director Martin Klimakovský says the move has some practical advantages.
“There are a number of other similar hotlines in the Czech Republic, which are called Safety Hotlines, but the calls made to this new unified European hotline are free of charge, unlike the other existing phone numbers.”
Being part of a Europe-wide effort also offers Lost Child, and the Czech Interior Ministry that has supported the initiative, the possibility to give better support in cases that reach beyond the Czech borders. Delphine Moralis, the secretary general of the umbrella organization Missing Children Europe, which has been the main engine behind Europe-wide efforts in this field, told me why the European Commission feels there is such a deep need for a single phone number.
“The disappearance of a child is not bound by national borders. For instance, a child that runs away in one country very easily ends up in another country. When we talk about parental abductions, which is the second biggest group which is reported to the 116000 hotline, obviously these are international parental abduction, when one parent is taking the child to another country. But also unaccompanied migrant minors from outside of the EU, who travel within the EU, and that go missing, there again there is cross-border aspect with children on the move throughout Europe. And for all of these reasons it was thought that one and the same telephone number across the EU would allow easier access for parents and children to the services that they need.”
Within months, all but one EU member state should have the same hotline set up, allowing for easier cooperation and access for clients. The Czech side says it is also ready to assist local callers in some foreign languages, although a comprehensive protocol for such calls had not been put into place yet.