A Carabinieri police official consults a map during operations to look for two missing children in Rome | Photo: ARCHIVE/ANSA/CLAUDIO PERI
A Carabinieri police official consults a map during operations to look for two missing children in Rome | Photo: ARCHIVE/ANSA/CLAUDIO PERI

A total of 3,589 children have disappeared in Italy so far this year, the Italian government said on International Missing Children's Day on Wednesday. Only one third of those missing are Italian nationals.

At least 2,409 children with foreign nationalities have disappeared in Italy in the first four months of 2022, according to data provided by the Italian government. This averages about 20 foreign children and 10 Italian children daily.

The government said in its report that in addition to outnumbering Italian children at a rate of two to one, foreign children are also more difficult to find, as many enter the country using irregular means. This results in them often being placed in Italy's migrant hosting system, from which they often escape, according to government data.

The government's commissioner for missing people added that 72.11% of the children and teens who were tracked down in the first four months of the year were Italian nationals, while 31.17% were foreign citizens. This marks a slight improvement compared to numbers from last year: In 2021, 79.27% of those who were found were Italian citizens while 26.35% were foreign nationals.

Quick actions needed

Police say that in order to fight child disappearances, it is important to report a missing minor as soon as possible, as the first few hours are key for investigators to be able to trace and find the child.

This can be done by dialling the emergency services number 112 or the European hotline for missing children, which in Italy can be reached at 116000. There's also the police app YouPol, where missing persons can be reported.

While Italian minors who go missing often report family problems, cyber bullying and drug-related motives as reasons for their disappearance, foreign children and especially unaccompanied minors often are motivated by other factors, which usually involve migrating elsewhere.

All children, however, face serious risks including becoming victims of trafficking and exploitation.

A problem of 'worrying proportions'

Italy's Minister for Equal Opportunities and Family, Elena Bonetti, highlighted the government's commitment to fight this phenomenon through an awareness campaign, urging the public to call an emergency number as soon as a minor disappears.

The President of the Parliamentary Commission for Infancy and Adolescence, Licia Ronzulli, meanwhile said "the phenomenon of missing minors is now taking on extremely worrying proportions."

Ronzulli appealed for closer cooperation between schools, institutions and families to identify minors at risk and to help prevent them from fleeing. She also called for beefing up protection protocols for foreign minors and added integration efforts.

Foreign minors must "reach a stability that induces them not to abandon centers or the foster families under whose care they have been placed," she concluded.

 

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