David Cameron has personally intervened in the case of Madeleine McCann who went missing, and is presumed to have been abducted, four years ago in Portugal. Cameron has asked the Metropolitan Police to investigate.
These two Guardian articles set out some of the many problems with this sudden, highly political intervention into a populist issue.
Cameron has no business telling the police what to do, and in particular he should think twice before endorsing, sanctioning or requiring a resource-heavy intervention on behalf of one family at a time when his government’s cuts to police and other services are putting many more children at risk.
On the points outlined in the articles linked-to above, I have nothing to say that hasn’t already been said better. But I do think it’s worth remembering that Madeleine McCann was not the only UK Child to go missing in 2007, nor is she the only child who remains unfound.
About those other children…
The missing children website http://uk.missingkids.com/missingkids/servlet/PublicHomeServlet collects and collates information about UK missing children. It may not have information about them all, but it is the best online source of information I can find. The details merit consideration and reflection about how we think of missing children, how we deal with their families, and what we choose to do with our policing priorities and resources.
46 UK children went missing in the same year as Madeleine McCann (2007) and are still missing. (The actual number of missing children in any year is much higher than that, but the vast majority are quickly found.)
Of those 46, 24 were over 16 at the time of their disappearance. It can be difficult to get police and other agencies to take the disappearance of older teenagers seriously – they are often assumed to be deliberate runaways, likely to return safely eventually, and therefore not a priority. However, young people in this age group can be incredibly vulnerable to sexual exploitation and other risks, and we should not assume – even if they do choose to go missing – that they are safe.
A further 17 of these children were aged between 10 and 16 at the time they went missing. Even if over 16s are sometimes invisible to us, those in this age group shouldn’t disappear without leaving ripples of concern behind. These youngsters were of compulsory school age; teachers and leaders of out of school clubs and activities know these children are gone, as well as their parents. For children in this age group who go missing multiple organisations as well as individuals should be pressing for them to be found.
The other five of the still-missing 46 children were under 10 years old.
Of the 46 still-missing children, four of them are white. Are non-white children easier to lose? Are they harder to find? Either way, in a country which was measured in 2001 as having a non-white population of less than 10% (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demography_of_the_United_Kingdom) it should be a matter for concern, if not shame, that the ‘still-missing’ figures reverse those percentages.
Looking back 10 years to 2001, there are two children registered as “still missing” from that year. One is the young black boy whose dismembered torso was found in the Thames. Strictly speaking he is not “missing”, but the tragedy of his young, short life is that we have not yet found anyone who misses him. The other child from that year is a welsh boy, who would have been in his mid-teens when he went missing.
There are 26 children recorded as being “still missing” from 2009. Of these, three were under 10 when they went missing; 14 were between 10 and 16 and nine were over 16 when they disappeared. Of these 26, one is white.
I completely understand why the McCann’s have campaigned as they have in the hopes of finding their daughter. If you are thinking of the McCann family today; if you are pleased that David Cameron intervened and think that it is right that limited police resources are devoted to the finding of one missing child, I would urge you to look at the missing kids website, at the pictures of the still-missing children and to imagine how their parents are feeling.
Can it really be right that only those families who have the capacity and resources to mobilise this level of public attention get a Prime Ministerial intervention?
Once again Cameron displays that he is a prime minister acting only in the interests of “people like him”. I think he should acknowledge – by name – all of the other still-missing children that he is not asking the police to follow up, and explain why he doesn’t think they are worth his attention.
Does every child matter? Or do some matter more than others?