Every year the Czech police receive several thousand reports of missing children. In 2004, the figure came close to ten thousand - that's in a country with a population of only ten million. With this Wednesday declared International Missing Children's Day, humanitarian organisations hope to bring awareness to the large number of children missing around the world and join forces to find more effective ways to reduce that number. Dita Asiedu looks at the situation here in the Czech Republic:
Under the international AGIS project, several organisations and foundations in the ten new EU member states received funding from the European Commission to assess the situation with missing children in their countries. The Czech "Our Child" Foundation, a member of the European Federation for Missing and Sexually Exploited Children, recently completed its study and came up with shocking results. Zuzana Baudysova is the director of "Our Child":
"The outcome of the study is a little bit pessimistic. At the moment, there are 350 children who have run away from institutional care and who the police are searching for. Sixty-five more have run away from their homes. So that's another category of children who are at risk. Both figures are very high."
With time the great majority of the missing children in the Czech Republic do turn up, and statistics include only those cases reported to the police. The number of children who are abducted is unknown but is believed to make up only a fraction of the total number of those who go missing, most of whom are runaways. But while the figures for those who run away from institutional care have increased by eighty-five percent in the last two years, the number of children who left home or are believed to have been abducted have dropped by some thirty percent.
Although most missing children are found, Mrs Baudysova points to the disturbing fact that in the short time they spend out on the streets, they are at a very high risk of being abused:
"We are afraid that we have been recording a phenomenon of commercial sexual exploitation - child pornography, the trade in children, and sexual exploitation. This category of children is very much influenced and prepared to be abused by this new phenomenon that I mentioned. Most of them are street children without any money or food and they are prepared to accept any offer in order to survive even to be in a pornographic video tape or be clients of paedophiles."
In the Czech Republic, there is still much room to battle the problem more effectively. The country still lacks a monitoring system that records and analyses every missing child case - why a child has run away, what places children tend to run away from, and where they seek refuge. With such information at hand, the country's organisations dealing with child care could join forces, guarantee children better conditions and prevent them from taking to the streets and becoming victims of abuse.
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