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Bringing America’s Missing Children Home

Courtesy of Robert L. Listenbee, Administrator, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

A spate of child abductions in the late seventies and early eighties—such as those of Etan Patz, Adam Walsh and the 29 children, teens, and young adults murdered in and around Atlanta— spurred Congress to pass the Missing Children Act in 1982.  The following year, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the first National Missing Children’s Day on May 25, and it has been observed on that date every year since.

Last Wednesday, I joined Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and Office of Justice Programs Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Beth McGarry—and other distinguished speakers, law enforcement officials and child advocates—at the Department of Justice’s annual Missing Children’s Day ceremony.  We remembered missing and exploited children and honored law enforcement personnel and private citizens who helped recover and protect them from exploitation, among them a team of investigators who uncovered an international scheme to place children in the care of sexual predators.  The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) coordinated the ceremony.

Robert L. Listenbee, Administrator, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

Our commitment to preventing the victimization of children is one we take seriously, every day of the year.  The OJJDP-supported National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) offers critical intervention and prevention services for missing and sexually exploited children.  In 2015 alone, the center assisted families and law enforcement with more than 13,700 cases of missing children. OJJDP provided NCMEC $31 million in fiscal year 2015.

NCMEC also manages the day-to-day operations of the national AMBER Alert program.  An AMBER Alert is issued when a law enforcement agency determines that a child has been abducted and is in imminent danger.  Just nine days before this year’s National Missing Children’s Day commemoration, an urgent AMBER Alert bulletin notified the city of Detroit that a three-month-old baby girl was missing.  Within hours, she was safely recovered.  Her recovery is just one of many success stories from the OJJDP-administered program, which is credited with successfully recovering 822 missing children since 1996.

Although we are helping to recover more and more missing and abducted children, threats such as child sex trafficking and Internet predators persist.  Another element of the Department of Justice’s longstanding commitment to protecting children is OJJDP’s work with the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task forces.  As a coordinated nationwide network of 61 task forces, ICAC’s investigative and forensic work has resulted in the arrests of more than 8,500 individuals and trained upwards of 47,000 professionals working in the field.  In 2015, for the third consecutive year, ICAC task forces conducted Operation Broken Heart, an intensive, two-month nationwide operation to identify and arrest child sexual predators. Last year’s operation resulted in the arrests of 1,140 child predators across 41 states.

In April, Attorney General Lynch landed yet another blow to child exploitation by releasing the 2016 National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction.  The National Strategy assesses the scope of the problem; details efforts to address child exploitation; presents future policy initiatives; and, for the first time, focuses on the distinct challenges of confronting child exploitation in Indian country.

We are also supporting activities aimed at helping children caught in commercial child sex trafficking, treating them as the victims that they are and affording them safe harbor in facilities designed for their unique needs.  Our data show that girls and young women are disproportionately victims of commercial sexual exploitation and comprise the majority of youth arrested for prostitution and commercialized vice.  Last October, we took another major step to assist system-involved girls and young women by releasing our Policy Guidance on Girls and the Juvenile Justice System.  We built upon that progress in January when we announced our Mentoring for Child Victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Domestic Sex Trafficking Initiative.

As the Attorney General said at this year’s National Missing Children’s Day ceremony, “Our nation has no more solemn obligation and no greater responsibility than the protection of our children.”  Join us as we honor our missing children and work to bring them home.  Sign up to receive AMBER Alerts and log on to to access resources to assist recovery efforts and combat child exploitation.

Updated March 3, 2017