Children in danger

If Greek police were better trained in dealing with missing minors, the case of Alex Meshivili, who disappeared in February 2006 from Veria in northern Greece and is thought to have been murdered, might have had a different outcome. The same applies to the Portuguese officers handling the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. The need for special training is especially urgent in Greece, which is used as a transit hub by traffickers in minors. This was one of the conclusions of an interview with three foreign experts who were in Greece last week to attend a seminar: American Ruben Rodriguez, the director of National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and organizer of the conference, Alain Remy, director of the Belgian police force’s missing children’s unit, and Alaska Police Chief Paul Burke. «European governments do not pay due attention to the issue of abuse of minors. There are EU countries that have no legislation to punish the sexual or economic exploitation of children. Worse still, child pornography is not considered illegal in all EU countries,» Remy told Kathimerini. Rodriguez and Burke pointed out that children disappear in all countries, and in increasing numbers. Both the police and the public must be informed and vigilant, they argued. Asked who is behind the disappearances, abuse and exploitation, Remy (who was in charge of the infamous Marc Dutroux case) answered: «Look in the mirror. It could be anyone. Judges, police officers, politicians. In the case of a missing child, everyone must be considered a suspect. The culprits often vanish among the volunteer search parties, and in most cases they know and select their victims.» An estimated 12 percent of female minors trafficked in the Balkans are sent through Greece and Turkey. «The traffickers don’t abduct them; they know where to find them, in poverty-stricken provinces and areas ravaged by war. They send so-called ‘lover boys’ whom claim to be in love with them. The girls disappear from their families and end up hostages to prostitution rings. » Their sexual exploitation and transfer from one country to another is the work of organized crime, noted Remy and Rodriguez. The growing number of gangs dealing in child pornography, most of them based in Eastern Europe, also gives rise to concern. Many of the victims are children listed as missing. The US model «What is happening in Greece and elsewhere now happened in the US 10 years ago,» explained Rodriguez. «We made mistakes in handling cases which helped us to develop more effective models of dealing with cases of missing minors. Look at them and copy them.» «Every country comes up against a case that forces the authorities to mobilize. That happened with the Dutroux case in Belgium,» said Remy, who also visited Greece recently in connection with the case of Alex Meshivili’s disappearance.