During the latest Council of Justice and Interior Affairs under the French Presidency, which will take place this Friday in Brussels, the Justice Ministers of the European Union will analyse the conclusions of child abduction alert exercises, carried out during the year, in order to encourage all member States to adopt similar systems to that of France, which could be triggered either side of a frontier.
On the occasion of the informal meeting of ministers responsible for justice and internal affairs, in Cannes in July 2008, the French Presidency had already stressed the need to share systems for "reponse" in cases of child abduction. The results obtained in France, as well as in shared exercises organised between member states, have shown the importance and the value of the system.
In July 2008, the Presidency had presented a film to all the ministers, recounting a cross-border child abduction exercise enacted a month earlier with Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish and Czech authorities accompanied the exercise as observers.
On the initiative of France, the United Kingdom, which had not wished to participate in the first exercise within the framework of the Abduction Alert, was involved in a second exercise, enacted on November 12th, in order to check the coordination of work by the authorities and services responsible for investigations in cases of abduction of a minor either side of the channel.
According to the French gendarmerie, who organised this simulation, the French-British "Abduction Alert" lasted for nearly seven hours.
Even before the start of the French Presidency, Rachida Dati, the Justice Minister, and Franco Frattini, then Vice-President of the European Commission, responsible for the area of "Liberty, Security and Justice," had already shown their wish for the abduction alert to become "a European system."
An alert system for missing children has been a European priority since 2006.In December 2006, an extraordinary meeting of the member States approved a European Commission's initiative reserving telephone numbers beginning with 116 in all member States "for social services", including the number 116 000, to become "an emergency call number for helping find missing children." In February 2007, the Commission officially adopted the decision "reserving the telephone number 116 000 in all member States as the emergency call number for carrying information about missing children."
In January 2008, after several years of work in this direction, 630 of the 718 deputies present in Strasbourg who had already adopted the European strategy on the subject of children's rights, approved the establishment of a European alert system in cases of abduction, as well as the setting up of a helpline telephone number for children, a measure proposed in 2006, but which certain member States have not yet put into action.
The document approved by the parliament goes further, because the deputies "strongly recommend a European strategy against paedophile tourism and the establishment of a single body for cross-border criminal law, applicable across the Union" which would allow perpetrators of sexual crimes to be pursued across Europe.
Operation abduction alert: the French example.
Since its creation in 2006, the French system, known as Abduction Alert, has allowed the very rapid broadcast to the population throughout the national territory, of clear information relating to abduction in order to elicit witness statements likely to help the prompt freeing of the victim.
In the hours following the notification of a disappearance, the decision to launch the "abduction alert" plan is taken by the Prosecutor of the Republic in close consultation with the investigators and only after consulting the Justice Minister.
Four criteria, however, must be met for the plan to be launched: it must be a proven abduction, and not simply a disappearance, although worrying; the life of the physical safety of the victim must be at risk; the Prosecutor of the Republic is in possession of information, the broadcasting of which would allow the child or the suspect to be located; and the victim must be a minor.
The alert message, indicating a single telephone number, is broadcast for three hours by different carriers: television channels, radio stations, press agencies, continuous message boards on motorways, public address messages in railway and metro stations, internet sites and victims' associations.
Misinformation or manipulation ?
Under the heading "EU discusses a Madeleine alert system," the Press association today announces that one more step will be taken this Friday towards the creation of a European Alert system, because, according to them, the subject was allegedly brought up "after Madeleine McCann's disappearance in Portugal last year and the idea for an alert system was defended by her parents, Kate and Gerry."
Again, according to the Press Association. the European Parliament, thanks to Madeleine's disappearance, now accepts the magnitude of the problem...this in spite of the work carried out for years by the parliament and the Commission and which culminated in the approved initiatives and strategies.
With an estimated population of 61 million, the United Kingdom announced the figure of 140,000 missing children, being an average of 383 a day, but it took Madeleine McCann's disappearance for the British government and the EU to take account of the magnitude of the problem...As a matter of curiosity, during the same period, Belgium, with its 10.5 million inhabitants, unfortunately experienced 8 disappearances a day.
The Press Association states that the French Abduction alert system works well, that of Belgium is identical, but "less well established", while the United Kingdom relies on the effective system of communication between 53 police forces, charities and voluntary groups....Therefore, go find the mistake.
(See links to four other articles on this subject on the SOS Madeleine McCann web site, where there is also a video recounting how the abduction simulation exercise was carried out between several member States earlier this year.)