The unacceptable lack of national protection and ineffective solidarity among EU states is exposing migrant children to violence, exploitation, trafficking, and abuse, President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca told an international conference on Wednesday.

According to the European Migration Network, more than 30,000 unaccompanied children went missing between 2014 and 2017, and the number of missing cases that are being solved is actually decreasing.

President Coleiro Preca was speaking at the third edition of the Lost in Migration Conference: Global Strategies and Political Commitments, organised by her Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society and Missing Children Europe between Wednesday and Friday.

According to the President, these conferences have flagged gaps in the system and drawn recommendations to address effective protection.

She hopes this year’s conference helps increase pressure on addressing the “horrendous situation where thousands of children go missing on European soil”.

We need to explore what is happening to children before they arrive in Europe, the dangers they face during their journeys, and after their arrival, she added.

“In particular, we must address the unacceptable lack of efficient national protection systems, and the ineffective solidarity being shown among EU states when it comes to the protection of migrating children.

“This situation is having the direct consequence of leaving our children more vulnerable to violence, exploitation, trafficking, and abuse.”

In her address, she noted that preventing unsafe migration and the subsequent horrendous trafficking of children was the first step to effectively tackle the issue of unaccompanied migrant children.

To achieve this goal, the involvement of countries of origin and of transit was fundamental, she insisted.

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President Coleiro Preca said that unfortunately, we were still a long way from effectively addressing the needs of children who have been victims of all sorts of violence, before and during their departure.

“I am sad to note that the necessary referrals to national child protection systems are not always implemented, nor are they treated with the necessary urgency.”

Delays in determining the status of children who arrived in Europe and were considered ‘stateless’ was another challenge that further compounded the difficulty of assuring their rightful protection.

It was therefore crucial that authorities pin-pointed appropriate people who were responsible for child protection at every stage of the identification and registration, she said.

On the other hand, frontline European states must be supported by the “entire family of European countries” to ensure the necessary expertise was provided in a consistent and sustainable manner.

Meet the exploited girls

As a side event, the Salesians of Don Bosco are screening a documentary about the sexual exploitation of girls, which is one of the problems that lead to forced migration.

The 27-minute film called Love is being screened at St Patrick's School, on St John Bosco Street in in Sliema on Thursday (21 February) at 7pm.

The film-maker and the people running the service to help these girls get back on their feet, will be in attendance and will take questions.


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