The way the media covers missing children

The focus of the worlds media again being on Madeline McCann makes me think again about children missing in the UK in general and how the media treats them.

Her disappearance is a continuing tragedy and I hope that it has galvanised the authorities – here and internationally – into considering the resources available to help the thousands of missing children that slip under our radar. About 100,000 children are reported missing in the UK every year, which amounts to one every 5 minutes. Even though many return or are in contact with somebody within 48 hours, the sheer scale of the problem and the weight of responsibility in making a judgement call is incredibly heavy.

Now, many run away from abuse, many are seduced by the bright lights, stranger abductions of very young children are very rare. I can’t help wondering that because Madeline McCann was a pretty blue eyed blonde haired little girl that the more unattractive, slightly older children who might have dabbled in drug addiction or anti social behaviour before disappearing would merit the same broadcast time and column inches. Children that were being looked after by local authorities and who were already half forgotten by society don’t seem to occupy much space in the newspapers unless they are part of a more dramatic criminal grooming situation.

The number of feral children living in the shadows, mainly in our big cities, is increasing year on year. Whether they are the run aways or the throw aways, any child deserves the same public attention and effort made to make them safe. I do understand that young people have to take a certain amount of responsibility for their actions – because that’s part of learning about life – but I think we are too quick to judge and blame those that were driven down a more shadowy road than others. If young people are not allowed by society to vote, drink, drive or get married until a certain age then we have to accept that they are not ready to make other sophisticated judgements about their life. Therefore we have an absolute responsibility to protect them. Especially when their parents can’t or wont.

There are only a small number of safe houses in the UK specifically for children and I am aware of the child rescue alert system in conjunction with the media. There are also several websites and organisations dedicated to helping find missing children, people involved in these do brilliant work but it’s way too little. If we could only respond to missing children in the same way that we respond to outbreaks of disease in cattle or threatened pandemics then why can’t we have a more centralised, publicised, unambiguous system in place to find children and protect them – not just return them to their homes, but offer them an opportunity to get back onto the road that leads to worthwhile adulthood.


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