By INÊS LOPES [email protected]
Child sexual exploitation debates mark International Missing Children’s Day in Portugal
Police authorities have investigated nearly 900 cases of missing children since January, representing an average of six children disappearing in Portugal each day.
According to data revealed by the Instituto de Apoio à Criança (IAC) during a conference to mark International Missing Children’s Day on May 25, the vast majority of these cases (869) have had a happy ending with the children found and returned to their families. However, the authorities are yet to locate 23 minors.
The IAC reported that last year the number of missing children was “alarmingly high” – a total of 2,842 children were reported missing and of these 27 are yet to be found.
Aurora Dantier, sub commissioner from the Lisbon PSP police, said more and more cases of missing children and child sexual abuse result from perpetrators inducing or coercing minors via the internet, a phenomenon that requires urgent attention and harsh penalties.
During the conference, held at the Assembleia da República (Parliament) under the theme ‘Missing Children and Child Sexual Exploitation’, Justice Minister Paula Teixeira da Cruz defended the electronic monitoring of convicted sex offenders and paedophiles as well as the creation of a national sex offender registry.
The minister also spoke about the new European Union Directive, passed in December, which introduces EU-wide requirements on prevention, prosecution of offenders and protection of child victims, including harsher penalties for sex offenders and new types of criminal offences.
Member States, which have two years to implement the new rules into their national laws, will also be entitled to take other measures, such as listing convicted persons in sex offender registers, similar to those included in Megan’s Law (www.meganslaw.ca.gov), which aims to provide the public with internet access to detailed information on registered sex offenders.
As part of the new directive, Member States will also have to ensure the prompt removal of web pages containing or disseminating child pornography hosted in their territory while coercing a child into sexual actions or forcing a child into prostitution will be punishable by a minimum of 10 years in prison. Child pornography producers will face at least three years incarceration, and viewers of child pornography on the web at least one year.
Dulce Rocha, vice president of the IAC, also believes periodical risk assessments of sex offenders should be undertaken to calculate the likelihood of re-offending, which in most cases is “very high”.
Sadly, the vice president of the Portuguese Association of Missing Children said last Friday that the trafficking and exploitation of children was “cheaper, more profitable and safer than drugs and arms trafficking”.
During another conference to debate the problem of missing children in Portugal, held in Matosinhos last Friday, Margarida Durão Barroso said the number of child trafficking and exploitation cases was rising because “international mafias” were investing more into this type of crime as they know “police authorities are more inclined to investigate cases of drug and weapon trafficking”.
She said: “The International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children and Missing Children Europe (the European Federation for Missing and Sexually Exploited Children) need to work together to tackle the problem.”
Also attending the conference, Derek Foster, a retired British police forensic chief who is responsible for the international investigation of missing people, said each country needed to find their own solution to deal with the problem, which will always be “multi-institutional”, and that each case needed to be investigated thoroughly even if the missing person is believed to have disappeared of their own accord, the situation with most teenagers. “There is always an element of risk,” he said.
The European Commission hotline for missing children – 116 000 – available in 16 countries in Europe, reported more than 3,000 cases of missing children in 2011.
Missing Children Europe, which incorporates 28 non-governmental organisations in 19 EU Member States, including Portugal through the Instituto de Apoio à Criança, marked International Missing Children’s Day last week with a campaign to bring attention to the problem and debates about the new EU directive to combat sexual abuse and exploitation of children and child pornography.
The hotline for missing children is a free number operating 24 hours a day. Calls are answered by specialists working with the NGOs of each country.
A list of reported missing people in Portugal can be found on the Polícia Judiciária website – go to www.policiajudiciaria.pt and click under ‘Pessoas Desaparecidas’ on the left-hand side of the homepage.