A child goes missing in Greece about every two days. As Proto Thema reported, most of them return home at some point.
In some cases, however, hours, days and years pass, excruciatingly without any new evidence emerging...
In the most recent incident, the kidnapping of a 14-year-old girl from Nea Smyrni, processes and services worked. The girl was found, but she was the victim of sexual exploitation.
As in many other cases, this was not the first time she had disappeared. Many times she had left home and was declared missing, which then activated the National Coordinating Program. The program allows for a swift notification of missing people throughout Greece.
The "Smile of the Child" organisation said that the fact that the 14-year-old often went missing was a clear sign that she needed care and attention.
"The fact that a group of people allegedly had sexual relations with her is deeply concerning and highlights the urgent need for action to protect children from the dangers of sex trafficking rings and other disturbing forms of exploitation," the organisation said.
Although police showed quick reflexes and arrested those responsible, this case serves as a wake-up call to remind us of the need for greater vigilance and support for children who should be in care, but are exposed to multiple risks.
Child disappearances has increased in Greece and is demonstrated by the explosive uptick recorded
According to "Smile" data, last year there was a 74% increase in missing children and teenagers. In Greece, in 2022, "Smile" handled 199 cases of missing children. Of these, 163 were found.
The numbers are alarming, especially if we consider that the problem is taking on explosive proportions across Europe - a child goes missing every two minutes.
According to the Missing Children Europe organisation, from EU countries, 250,000 children disappear annually, while thousands more go missing without being declared as they are not reported to the authorities.
On average every year in Greece, the special Hotline for Missing Children 11600 receives more than 6,000 calls concerning missing children.
The cases that reach the stage of investigation - that is, when the help of the authorities is needed - are between 150-200 each year. A percentage of 80%-90% of them are found.
So where are the rest?
Most cases of missing children are teenage girls, mostly from urban environments, who choose to leave their homes.
"For the first time this year we have a differentiation in terms of the reasons for the disappearance," said the psychologist and coordinator of the National Centre for Disappearances and Child Victims of Exploitation of 'Smile', Stefanos Alevizos.
"The reasons cannot be quantified because they are many and complex.
"Intra-family problems, unfavourable living conditions inside the home, relationships with the opposite sex, adults who led children to run away, problem with the use of the internet contributed to a child's decision to open the door and leave the house."
Parental abductions - that is, children of divorced parents where one takes the child away from the other - and the disappearances of immigrant and refugee children also account for a large percentage of disappearances.
The disturbing incidents are those involving abductions by a third party or unsolved abductions-kidnappings.
The social media trap
It is only in the realm of urban legend, at least for Greece, that human organ trafficking rings are looking for children to abduct for their purposes. However, what is not a myth and is taking on ever greater dimensions is the abduction of children for sexual exploitation.
With the use of social networks, children and teenagers become much easier targets for trafficking/child prostitution rings. Thus, the classic way of abduction by force (which is avoided by the criminal rings as it involves the risks of their capture and detection) is now unnecessary.
Through the chatrooms, children are persuaded to go to the place that will be indicated to them. There, no one will know who grabbed them, as the criminal ring will have taken care to erase their electronic traces.
Here are ten ways to keep your kids safe on social media:
1. Educate yourself about social media
Do you remember when the only big social media sites were Facebook and Myspace? That’s not the case anymore.
As a parent, it’s important to familiarise yourself with what sites are out there and which are appropriate for your child. Here are some of the most popular social apps and sites for kids and teens:
2. Establish an age limit for your child to start using social media
While you’re familiarising yourself with what social media sites are out there, you should take a look at what the required minimum age is for each site.
Most social media sites require users to be 13 or older to create an account without their parents’ permission, according to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
3. Regularly check your child’s privacy settings.
Once your child has set up a social media account, it’s important to remain vigilant about keeping their privacy settings updated. Social Media sites are continually adding security settings to ensure that maximum protection is available, but oftentimes they need to be updated manually by the user.
4. Keep your child’s profile private.
Most social media sites give you the option to make your account private. This means that only people who your child has friended will be able to see the content on their profile. This is an important step to take in order to keep their content private and away from people who may misuse it.
5. Make sure they’re not posting personal details, including phone numbers, address, or check-ins.
Social media has become such a normal part of people’s lives that it’s not uncommon for people to share information about themselves that shouldn’t be shared. It’s important that your child understands what kinds of information shouldn’t be shared and why.
6. Don’t allow them to post photos or videos which jeopardise their safety or character.
While most people post pictures and videos with the best intentions, it’s easy for things to be taken the wrong way or out of context and when everyone is online, the wrong message can have long-lasting consequences.
Talk to your kids about this and make sure they understand to only post pictures and videos that present themselves and others in a positive light.
7. Make sure they choose a strong password.
“1, 2, 3, 4, 5? That’s amazing! I’ve got the same combination on my luggage!”
The password scene from the 1987 comedy Spaceballs was funny back then and it’s still funny today because the implications are the same. Would you really use a password as simple as 1,2,3,4,5 to safeguard something important?
No, of course you wouldn’t and you should get your kids into the habit as well.
8. Never allow them to accept friend requests from people they don’t know.
This may be self-explanatory, but there are a lot of people out there who use social media to stalk people and steal their information to cause harm. It’s always best practice to only accept friend requests from people your child knows such as their friends and family.
9. Set guidelines/rules for their social media use.
Establishing rules or guidelines from the start is a great way to instill positive habits for your child on social media. However, you don’t want to set up rules which are too strict or else you run the risk of your child actively and secretly trying to break them.
Try to make rules that empower your child to make good decisions on their own.
10. Keep an open dialogue with your child.
You can’t monitor your child’s social media activity 24/7, so maintaining a strong line of communication is important to understand what’s going on with your child online.
Ask them to inform you whenever they receive messages or invites from strangers. Talk to them about the consequences of misusing social media. Ask them to tell you if someone is teasing or harassing them as those could be signs of cyber-bullying.
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