Remembering those children who are still missing and supporting loved ones in their search are key elements to this year’s International Missing Children’s Day campaign, a day recognised globally on 25 May each year. The Australian Federal Police (AFP), through its National Missing Persons Coordination Centre (NMPCC), is launching the campaign in Canberra today.
The day highlights the continued efforts of police, family, friends, and the wider community to find missing children, and pays tribute to children who have been victims of crime. It is also a celebration of missing children who have found their way home. This year’s ‘Forget-Me-Not’ theme encourages the public to think about children who have been missing for months, and in many cases, decades.
There are more than 2000 long-term missing persons in Australia at present, with around 150 of those being people aged 18 or under. AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin said the NMPCC plays an active role in educating the Australian community on missing persons’ issues, and noted there was a higher risk of vulnerable people, such as children, going missing.
“We know that, of the more than 35,000 people reported missing to police in Australia each year, close to two-thirds are children. While the majority are found within 24 hours, there are still those whose whereabouts remain unknown,” Commissioner Colvin said. “For parents, family and friends, not knowing what has happened to a loved one has a profound impact. Those questions—where are they, are they safe, do they need me—can remain unanswered for weeks, months and, sadly years. But rest assured, we will continue to work closely with our State and Territory partners to find answers to these questions and to ensure the safety of all Australian children.”
This year, the NMPCC is raising awareness of the valuable work families do in the wake of experiencing a missing loved one. Suzie Ratcliffe is one such family member. Suzie’s charity, Leave a Light On, aims to raise awareness of long-term missing person’s cases, and asks the community to never forget.
“My 11-year-old sister Joanne (Ratcliffe), along with Kirste Gordon, four at the time, disappeared from the Adelaide Oval in South Australia in 1973,” Ms Ratcliffe said. “For years following my sister’s disappearance, my mother left the front porch light on, in the event Joanne ever found her way home. Forty-three years later, we still leave a light on in memory of her.”
Kirste Gordon’s parents, Greg and Christine, described the difficulties faced by families left behind, and the strength required to keep moving forward. “When the girls were abducted, we could do little but wait and contemplate the mystery of where they may have gone,” Mr Gordon said. “In the time since, it has been important to us to feel in control of our lives for the sake of our family. We are most grateful to the police for their support and for the effort they continue to apply to find a resolution.”
In recent years technology has enabled the AFP and the Daniel Morcombe Foundation to develop smart phone apps to help ‘keep our kids safe’. The foundation’s ‘Help Me’ app sounds a warning and allows children to send an SMS to nominated ‘safety’ numbers, as part of a child’s Trusted Safety Network. Included in the text are GPS co-ordinates from where the text was sent, so the sender can be located or a last known place of contact is indicated. The AFP’s Australian Police Child ID app—an electronic ‘Identity Kit’ which can be used to file a missing person’s report—helps parents and carers provide information immediately to police about their child’s appearance, images, and networks, in the event a child goes missing.
For further information on missing children and to spread a message of hope, visit the AFP’s ‘Help Bring Them Home’ website at www.helpbringthemhome.org.au and release a virtual balloon in support. Anyone with information relating to a missing child is urged to contact their local police or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.