Move follows claims that missing children vulnerable to abuse have fallen ‘off the radar’
A new national database of missing people has been announced as part of a drive to tackle child sexual exploitation.
The Home Office has announced plans for a National Missing Persons Register, expected to go live in 2018. It will give police access to information about adults and children who have disappeared wherever they are in the country.
Plans for the new database were revealed as Home Secretary Amber Rudd launched a £40 million package of measures to tackle child sexual exploitation.
The Home Office’s Tackling child sexual exploitation report, published at the end of last week, says: “We know missing children are particularly at risk of sexual exploitation.
“Working with the National Police Chiefs Council we will develop a National Missing Persons Register that will allow the police to access data about missing people, including children, across force boundaries.”
The move follows criticism by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in its Missing children: who cares? report that the current datasets at both force and national level are “not reliable”.
It stated: “It is therefore impossible to know how many children in England and Wales go missing, how often, or how many of these might be at risk of child sexual exploitation or other exploitation or abuse.”
Furthermore, an inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults led to a warning that thousands of children are at "terrible risk" because they are effectively off the police radar when they disappear.
When forces receive a report that a child is missing they can class them as either “missing” or “absent”. A categorisation of absent denotes that the child is considered to be at “no apparent risk”.
A report by the parliamentary group said its inquiry heard cases of children classed as absent when they had been groomed for sexual exploitation or criminal activity such as drug running.
In 2015-16, police forces in England, Scotland and Wales received 382,855 calls reporting people missing. Children and young people accounted for over half of the cases, with 94% aged between 12 and 17.
The cash injection announced by the home secretary also involves the National Crime Agency receiving an extra £20 million, the launch of a new Centre of Expertise, and £2.2 million going to charities working to protect children at risk of trafficking. In addition, a new licence to practise for specialist child abuse investigators will also be piloted as part of measures to professionalise the police response.
There was a 24% increase in police recording of child sexual abuse offences involving contact in 2015-16, according to figures cited in the Government report.
Image by Inaki Perez de Albeniz, CC BY 2.0 through flickr