Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Missing children in spotlight

Missing children in spotlight

Advocacy group saysmore needs to be done


The Mirror Foundation, a well-known child advocacy group, is to highlight the issue of missing children in a campaign for this year's Children's Day, on Jan 12. Ekaluck Lumchomkhae, head of the foundation's Missing Children Statistics Centre, said while the life of normal children is typically a major concern on the annual Children's Day, the agency wanted society to pay greater attention to missing children, whose voices have never been heard.

The campaign comes from the foundation's experiences in helping families trace missing children, although it has made little progress over the years.

The foundation held a seminar yesterday to mark the disappearance of two children _ Chaiyapas Dankuekul, 11, and Pongphet Jeensuksaeng, 10 _ who went missing just over a year ago from their homes in Krathum Baen district of Samut Sakhon province.

Chaiyapas and Pongphet were neighbours. They disappeared on Dec 16, 2006, after going out to play computer games at an internet cafe. The disappearance of the two made headlines in local newspapers last year when Deputy Social Development and Human Security Minister Poldej Pinprateep visited the families in Krathum Baen and ordered the authorities involved to step up measures to trace the two boys.

Soraya Dankuekul, the mother of Chaiyapas, said she had tried in vain to follow the progress of the authorities' inquiries over the past year.

''I even filed a complaint with the Royal Thai Police, but the answer was only silence. It's a year and 22 days now, and I have still heard nothing about my son. I feel that they [the authorities] didn't pay serious attention to my problem,'' said Ms Soraya. She said she occasionally received tips that someone had seen a boy who looked like her son in various places, but when she went there she could not find him.

''I followed those clues three times on my own _ to Pattaya, Ratchaburi and Chantaburi _ but all to no avail,'' she said.

Mr Ekaluck said the concerned government agencies seemed to function poorly and without cooperation.

''There needs to be a host agency to lead the work, getting all the agencies to cooperate and make sure measures are adjusted and enforced more efficiently,'' he said.

In its Children's Day campaign, the foundation will call for authorities to take the issue seriously. Also, to get public attention, the foundation will bring to the spotlight another case of a five-year-old boy from Chachoengsao who went missing in October last year.

The foundation will take the boy's parents to the Royal Thai Police Office to lodge a complaint and discuss the issue with a top-level officer.

Mr Ekaluck said the foundation had also come up with proposed measures to cope with the problem.

First, it suggests that police take up every complaint about missing children as they could involve human trafficking and child exploitation.

''In the past, police dismissed some complaints about missing children as they regarded them as small cases of children running away from homes, not as serious crimes,'' he said.

The foundation will also push for the drafting of a new law on missing persons to provide state mechanisms to effectively handle the problem and rescue the victims.

According to the foundation's statistics from 2004 to 2006, 60% of missing people in Thailand were children, and the number keeps increasing every year.

Some had run away from home, while many had been kidnapped, mainly for the purposes of commercial sex and labour.

The minister, Mr Poldej, said the responsible agencies still hadn't done enough to tackle the problems.

He said he looked forward to the enforcement of a new anti-human trafficking law which would allow for the establishment of a fund to support the families of trafficking victims.

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