World Day against Trafficking in Persons: The risk of trafficking of thousands of missing unaccompanied children in Europe

30 July, Brussels: Data collected from hotlines for missing children reveals that unaccompanied migrant children go missing from age 4 up to 17 years. Unaccompanied children go missing not only in member states that are considered as “transit” countries by  children who have a specific migration plan in mind, but also from “destination” countries where children are often expected to be heading to. Once missing, information about these children’s whereabouts become very difficult to ascertain.

Unaccompanied children who go missing are children who may have already applied for asylum or who want to apply for asylum in another EU Member State, where they have family or where they believe that they could have a better future. Some children may not have applied for protection, either because they lack information, are discouraged by the perceived length and complexity of the procedure, or because they are aware of having little or no chance of success. Some children are kept away from the protection system by criminal networks looking to exploit them for profit.

All of these children are at risk of becoming victims of trafficking or re-trafficking. As reported by Europol recently, minors are increasingly targeted by traffickers and become victims to facilitators coercing them into criminal activities and exploitation. In 2015, over 220 smugglers were identified by Europol as being involved in more than one crime area. Out of these, 22% were linked to drug trafficking, 20% to trafficking in human beings, 20% to property crime and 18% to forgery of documents. The European Commission report on the progress made in the fight against trafficking in human beings has also noted that an exacerbation of child trafficking has been noted in the EU by the ongoing migration crisis,

The project Safeguarding Unaccompanied Migrant Minors from going Missing by Identifying Best Practices and Training Actors on Interagency Cooperation (SUMMIT), coordinated by Missing Children Europe, aimed to reduce the numbers of unaccompanied children who go missing. To this end, this project addressed how the issue of the disappearance of an unaccompanied child is tackled in seven Member States (BE, CY, EL, ES, IR, IT, UK), and promotes successful strategies and behaviours related to the prevention and response to disappearances. The project also identified challenges and recommendations to prevent trafficking of unaccompanied children.

SUMMIT recommendations that are relevant to the disappearance of unaccompanied children who are potential victims of trafficking:


  • Collection of detailed and exhaustive information on the child
  • Easier centralised systems to register all information related to an unaccompanied child
  • Assessment of the risk if the child could become a victim of trafficking or be re-trafficked
  • Development of a trusting relationship between the care giver and the child is the most effective way to prevent disappearance
  • Carers need information on national and international patterns of trafficking and known criminal activity that could have an impact on the safety of the unaccompanied child


  • Truly assess the possibility that the child may be a victim of trafficking, labour or sexual exploitation and other crimes
  • Fast track reporting of a child identified as being at risk of trafficking is crucial in trafficking cases
  • Centralised administration of information relating to unaccompanied children
  • Clear and well-understood division of tasks between stakeholders
  • Creation of multi-agency hubs including police, child services and anti-trafficking experts to support the work of grassroots professionals 
  • Efficient systems for cross border exchange of information and cooperation in transnational cases of missing unaccompanied children


  • Needs of unaccompanied children should be thoroughly analysed and considered when deciding on a care plan for a previously missing child
  • Unaccompanied children found in specific contexts that suggest that they have been engaged in criminal activity should be considered victims and not criminals
  • Thorough interview with trained professionals for the development of an appropriate care plan for a child who was previously missing
Read the full report on SUMMIT's recommendations to prevent, respond and provide after care of unaccompanied children at risk of being trafficked here.


Upcoming event:


Missing Children Europe will be organising a conference with the President’s Foundation for the Society of Wellbeing on 26 and 27 January 2017 in Malta, on the need for a coordinated child protection approach to prevent and respond to disappearances of children in migration. A call for proposals for sessions is now open. Read more and apply here.
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