The search for Greece’s missing children

The child’s bed is made, his clothes are still hanging in his cupboard – 14 years after he went missing. His framed photograph sits on his desk, next to his Playstation. His schoolbag hangs on the back of his chair. According to Greek Police statistics for 2005, 289 children (96 boys and 193 girls up to the age of 18) went missing. Of these, 270 were found. Most were aged between 7-12 years old. Finding the children is the work of the police, but they are also helped by the Smile of the Child welfare group and the Light in the Tunnel television show. The main reason children run away from home in Greece is due to conflict with their parents. Disappearances of younger children under 10 are often the result of one parent abducting the child after a messy divorce. Many are for unexplained reasons. Smile of the Child President Costas Yiannopoulos said that there was no documented evidence of cases related to the sale of body organs, as in Albania and Italy. «We have parental abductions, which are not heavily penalized in Greece, but also unsolved cases where we never find out what happened to the child,» he said. «There are missing children, often from other countries, that have ended up here as beggars, in prostitution or in drug running. The disappearance of children abroad has assumed major proportions – children are abducted and sold or rented out. In Greece this has only happened on a small scale on the part of gypsies, for example, or begging rackets. In Europe, they are abducted by gangs who exploit them for pornography.» The Smile of the Child uses new investigative methods in cooperation with organizations abroad. «We use the Amber Alert system that does not waste time. We use mobile phones, inform airports, mobilize the media. Our organization is also a member of the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children,» said Yiannopoulos. «All the evidence and photographs of children missing in Greece are circulated around the world as well as on the center’s website.»

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