Tuesday, 17 June 2008

European missing children alert system being developed since 2006

Gerry McCann “has grown frustrated” by the refusal of many Members of European Parliament to sign up a “written declaration” proposing the creation of an EU alert system similar to the Amber alert, in the USA. The father of Madeleine McCann accused those MEPs of a "complete lack of understanding in what we hope to achieve.”

The McCann have been campaigning for an EU alert system, to deal with cases of missing children. But since 2006, the European Commission has approved a project to set up a single EU hotline number (116 000) and a coordinated alert system, between the 27 Member States.

On December 2006, a special meeting of Member States endorsed the European Commission's initiative to reserve a set of common free phone numbers “for services of social value”, including the number 116 000, to be made “available for hotlines for missing children.” On February 2007, the EU Commission formally adopted the decision “reserving the 116000 telephone number in all Member States as a hotline for reporting missing children.” Viviane Reding, the EU Telecom Commissioner at the time, said that she was “delighted that today the first major step towards a single EU hotline number for missing children has been taken”, according to BBC.

Until now, four European countries have set up the 116 000 hotline to report missing childrenBelgium, Greece, Portugal and Denmark – and France will do it this summer. The European Federation for Missing and Sexually Exploited Children (“Missing Children Europe”) was invited by the European Commission to help in this project and, following a meeting on 17 August 2007, Missing Children Europe convened an Interdisciplinary Core Group of NGOs and law enforcement agencies, which met on 31 August 2007 and drafted some initial recommendations, which were the basis for a Commission Guidelines about missing children, discussed at the Informal Meeting of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers in Lisbon of 2 October 2007.

The EU hotline and alert system for missing children is high in the agenda of the French EU presidency, to start in July 2008 and new and important steps are expected, for 2009, as “Missing Children Europe” refers, on a report about it's cooperation with this EU project.

In his blog, on 13 June, Gerry McCann strongly criticized the EU project, claiming that the 116 000 number “is only operational in one out of 27 European countries (Greece) so far.” Also, he considers that the system the EU is setting up, since 2006, does not mean “an Amber alert will be issued for an abducted child as no such system exists." The McCann, who will be in Strasbourg today, 17 June, still need 182 Euro MPs to sign up the “written declaration” but this document carries no legal weight in the European Union.

Duarte Levy and Paulo Reis

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