little official data and public awareness on missing children
The reality of the situation of missing children in France is difficult to grasp. Information is scarce, and official statistics are hard to come by.
According to the association Droit d’Enfance who is in charge of the 116000 missing children hotline service in France, and cited by online publications, 51,287 minors were reported missing in 2019 in France:
49,846 runaway reports, 918 reports classified as disturbing disappearance, and 523 reports of abduction or misappropriation
The authorities state that it is difficult to provide an accurate number of missing children, as not all cases are reported and a child may be reported missing several times, especially if it’s a runaway case.
French authorities need to develop a stronger, more transparent database on the number of all missing children and the circumstances of their disappearances. This evidence is a must to push for legal changes.
Parents, children, and the greater community need to have a better understanding and awareness of how to prevent and respond to all forms of child abduction and parental alienation. The national abduction alert system and the 116000 hotline are not well-known or used by French parents.
French authorities do not publish how many abductions are made by a parent or a family member versus a stranger, nor where the kids are being taken to. However, it is often reported in media that parental abduction is on the rise with some 600 cases in 2017.
At a European level, Missing Children Europe reports 426 ongoing and 981 new cases of parental abduction, and 536 cross border cases across Europe in 2019. In the most recent Hague report, France ranked fifth in terms of the number of applications for the return or access to a child with a total of 294 applications. France is both a victim of international parental abduction as well as a destination for abductors. 134 of these were incoming applications demanding the return of children from France to some 40 countries while 160 demanded the return of children to France.
Little is published about where these children are taken to, though much media attention has been put on Japan. In the summer of 2020, Frenchman Vincent Fichot and Italian Tomasso Perina successfully lobbied the EU parliament to pass a resolution condemning Japan’s inaction and demanded the return of their abducted children. It has yet to have had any tangible effect on Japanese policies or practices.
Given that in France it is not mandatory for both parents to sign passport applications for their child(ren), it is not very hard for one parent to leave in secret especially if that parent holds dual citizenship.
In France, a child cannot decide to stop seeing a parent. A court decision regulates the relationship between parents and children. If a child refuses to return to one parent's home, the other parent can be criminally prosecuted for not representing the child, even though the police are not very responsive. The possibility exists for the alienated parent to initiate criminal proceedings.
These proceedings can be lengthy and psychologically tolling. This is because sometimes, claims of violence, rape, and sexual abuse are made. These claims have to be investigated and if found to be true can result in the parent losing custody.
While there are many legal procedures to address parental alienation. What is missing are pragmatic and effective solutions. Judges often feel powerless because they cannot follow the situation from day to day, while the manipulator continues his daily undermining work since he has the child under his control.
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