Ernie Allen testifies before the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe | ICMEC | JUN 17, 2008

Ernie Allen, ICMEC President & CEO,testifies before the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe on 17 June 2008. The goal of is to strengthen international law enforcement in combating sexual exploitation of children. Please download the testimony of Ernie Allen to read what we are doing to achieve this goal.

International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children granted special status with United Nations | ICMEC | AUG 13, 2008

ALEXANDRIA, VA – The International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC) announced today that it has been granted Special Consultative Status with the United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).  The ECOSOC is the UN body that provides guidance and oversight to the General Assembly and the 192 Member States on economic and social matters.  Special Consultative Status is granted to non-governmental organizations with expertise in a particular area.  ICMEC will work with the ECOSOC and provide technical assistance and expertise primarily on the issues of child sexual exploitation and child abduction.

Child abduction and child sexual exploitation are both far-reaching global problems.  The problem of child pornography on the internet has become a multi-billion dollar business which has resulted in the world-wide distribution of millions of images of children being subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation.  International child abduction is a problem that is complicated by laws that vary from country to country.  In the United States alone, nearly 800,000 children are reported missing every year.

“We are honored to be granted Special Consultative Status, and look forward to working with the ECOSOC and others at the UN to address child protection issues on a global basis,” said Ernie Allen, president and CEO of ICMEC.

Consultative status enables qualified organizations to contribute to the work and goals of the United Nations by serving as technical experts, advisers and consultants.  It is granted to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which demonstrate that their program of work is of direct relevance to the United Nations and which results in a mutually beneficial working relationship.  There are currently more than 3000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in consultative status with ECOSOC.

The ECOSOC is responsible for promoting higher standards of economic and social progress; identifying solutions to international economic and social problems; facilitating international cultural and educational cooperation among governments, law enforcement, civil society, and the public at large; encouraging universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; and advocating for legislation, adoption of treaties, and ratification of UN conventions.  The Special Consultative Status was granted to ICMEC during the July 2008 ECOSOC Substantive Session at UN headquarters in New York City.

Banco Bradesco, one of the largest financial institutions in Latin America, has joined the Financial Coalition Against Child Pornography (FCACP) | ICMEC | NOV 12, 2008

Banco Bradesco is the First Institution in the Latin America Region to Join the Financial Coalition Against Child Pornography

ALEXANDRIA, VA – The International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC) announced today that Banco Bradesco, one of the largest financial institutions in Latin America, has joined the Financial Coalition Against Child Pornography (FCACP). The Coalition is a group of leading banks, credit card companies, third party payment companies and Internet services companies working together to fight commercial child pornography over the Internet. Launched in 2006, the initiative is managed by ICMEC and its sister organization, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).

Child pornography has become a multi-billion dollar commercial enterprise and is among the fastest growing businesses on the Internet. The Internet has enabled instant access to child pornography by thousands and possibly millions of individuals around the world. Consumers are able to use traditional payment tools, such as credit cards, as well as new, alternative payment schemes, to purchase child pornography on the Internet. The mission of the Coalition is to follow the flow of funds and shut down the payments accounts used by these illicit enterprises.

“From the start of the Coalition, we knew that it would take a truly global effort to tackle this horrendous problem,” said Ernie Allen, President and CEO of the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children and Chairman of the Coalition. “Banco Bradesco’s commitment, expertise and leadership role in the financial industry will fortify our efforts as we work to disrupt the economics of commercial child pornography.”

Other members of the Coalition include America Online, American Express Company, Authorize.Net, Bank of America, The Bank of New York Mellon, Capital One, Chase Paymentech Solutions, CheckFree, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank Americas, Discover Financial Services, Elavon Inc., First Data Corporation, First National Bank of Omaha, Global Payments Inc., Google, HSBC – North America, JP Morgan Chase, MasterCard, Microsoft, North American Bancard, PayPal, ProPay Inc., PREMIER Bankcard, Standard Chartered Bank, Visa, Washington Mutual, Wells Fargo, Western Union, and Yahoo! Inc.

The exact number of child pornography web sites is difficult to determine. In 2001, the CyberTipline, a U.S. reporting mechanism for child sexual exploitation operated by NCMEC, received more than 24,400 reports. By October 2008, the number of reports had climbed to more than 636,000.

Historic Cairo meeting convened on Child Abduction and Exploitation | ICMEC | FEB 19, 2009

First Ladies and Royalty from Seven Nations Collaborate on the Global Problems of Missing and Sexually Exploited Children

CAIRO, EGYPT – Her Excellency Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak, First Lady of the Arab Republic of Egypt and President of the Suzanne Mubarak Women’s International Peace Movement (SMWIPM) in partnership with the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC) convened an historic child protection conference today in Cairo.  The theme of the conference was “Crossing Borders to Protect the Children of the World.”

The conference coincided with the first meeting of the Honorary Board of ICMEC to be scheduled in the Middle East and Africa region.  The meeting of the Honorary Board and the child protection conference were both hosted in Cairo by H.E. Mrs. Mubarak.

Honorary Board members attending the conference included:

H.E. Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak, First Lady of the Arab Republic of Egypt
Her Majesty, The Queen of the Belgians
Her Royal Highness, Princess Lalla Meryem of the Kingdom of Morocco
Her Highness, Shaikha Sabeeka Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa, Wife of the King of Bahrain
Mrs. Margarida Sousa Uva Barroso, Wife of the President of the European Commission
Mrs. Bernadette Chirac, Former First Lady of the French Republic
The Honorable Valentina Matvienko, Governor of Saint Petersburg

H.E. Mrs. Mubarak convened the Honorary Board in Cairo, saying “the problem of abused and exploited children has remained in the shadows for too long.  This issue is a global phenomenon.  If not attended to, it may reach epidemic proportions.”

Approximately two hundred child protection officials attended the conference which focused three issues: Cyber Safety and the global epidemic of child pornography on the internet; Effective Legislation against Child Pornography and ongoing efforts to adopt legislation around the world to prevent the exploitation of children; and Cooperation and Respect between Legal Systems and the need to work in a collaborative manner to develop jurisdictional approaches to protect children on a global basis.
Baron Daniel Cardon de Lichtbuer, Chairman of the ICMEC Board of Directors, said, “our challenge is not just to increase awareness and persuade individual governments to act, if we are to truly be successful, we must launch a global movement.”

The conference culminated with the Honorary Board members releasing a Cairo Declaration urging global leaders and leading international business organizations and technology leaders to take immediate steps in six areas:

  • Enact new and improved legislation and review existing laws periodically to ensure effective redress of any form of exploitation of children.
  • Join with ICMEC in a global movement to protect children, including expanding efforts to build new national and regional centers around the world to better address the problems of child abduction and exploitation.
  • Explore bilateral and multilateral approaches to resolving family disputes, including mediation, in order to ensure that the children are not the victims.
  • Make eradication of child exploitation a top priority.
  • Join together in a global campaign to build greater awareness and to stimulate concerted action to protect the world’s children.
  • Develop new tools and technologies to protect children and to redouble efforts to ensure that technology is not used as tool to exploit and victimize children.

Ernie Allen, ICMEC’s President & CEO, said, “Crossing Borders to Protect Children is the perfect theme for this historic meeting.  No person, no nation, no organization can do independently what all people, all nations and all organizations must do together.”

This was the third meeting of the ICMEC Honorary Board.  Former First Lady Bernadette Chirac hosted the previous meeting in 2007 at the Elysee Palace in Paris.  At that meeting the board was described by “Le Figaro” as the “G-8 for Children.”  The first meeting of the Honorary Board was hosted by Her Majesty Queen Paola of Belgium in 2004.

The Suzanne Mubarak Women’s International Peace Movement is a non-profit, non-governmental international association whose principal goal is to advocate and work towards peace and human security, and empower women and youth to participate as key influencers, change agents and active partners in peace processes.  For more information, The International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children is a private, non-profit 501(c)(3) non-governmental organization.  It is the leading agency working on a global basis to combat child abduction and exploitation.  It is the sister organization of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.  For more information, visit

Ernie Allen Speech on Child Abductions: Globally, Nationally and Along the U.S. Mexico Border | ICMEC | AUG 31, 2009


President & Chief Executive Officer



For the

U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs
Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention

San Diego, California
August 31, 2009


The Justice Department asked me to share some thoughts with you this morning regarding the scope of the problem of missing and abducted children globally, in our two countries, and specifically in the border region.

Let me begin by stating that it is clear that political boundaries are no barriers to the transportation and victimization of children, not just in our region but worldwide. Twenty-five years ago, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children was born. Part of the reason for the creation of the National Center was our recognition that we had no national system for responding to missing child cases. Ours was a nation of 18,000 different police departments. When a child was taken across county or state lines, other jurisdictions might not even know about the search for the child. It was a time when for most purposes you could not enter missing child information into the FBI’s National Crime Computer. You could enter information about stolen cars, stolen guns, even stolen horses, but not stolen children. It was a time in which most police departments had mandatory waiting periods before they would even take missing child reports.

We set out to change all that. In 1982 Congress passed the Missing Children’s Act, making it possible to enter missing child information into NCIC. Incidentally, we are very encouraged by the legislation recently introduced in the Mexican Senate to create a national missing person’s registry in Mexico.

In 1984 the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children opened its doors, working in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice to develop a comprehensive national response to the problem of missing and exploited children. In 1990 Congress mandated that police take an immediate report in every missing child case and immediately enter that information into NCIC. The progress has been enormous. Today, law enforcement is better trained, better prepared and responding more swiftly and effectively than ever before.And today more missing children come home safely than at any time in the nation’s history. Yet, we continue to face new challenges.

One of those challenges is the increase in child abduction cases across our borders. We have worked tirelessly to foster greater cooperation and collaboration. Through our International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children, we have trained police officials in 113 nations, including Mexican federal law enforcement. We have participated in efforts to improve our handling of international child abduction cases under the Hague Convention. We joined with the former First Lady of Mexico, Marta Sahagun de Fox, a member of the Honorary Board of our International Centre, in roundtables and video conferences on these issues, including the idea of creating a center in Mexico like our National Center in the United States. In 2004 we joined with Mexico’s Attorney General to launch the Mexican Missing Children Website. Today, we are working with Mexico on the implementation of CETS, the Child Exploitation Tracking System.

Today, our two countries are doing more than ever before. Yet, the problem of missing, abducted, trafficked and sexually exploited children is large, growing, under-recognized and underreported. Now more than ever, we must do more and we must do it together.

One of our greatest challenges is simply measuring and quantifying how large this problem really is. We do not yet have the kind of comprehensive, scientific data that we need on a global basis, but we are learning more.

In the United States, Justice Department research found that approximately 800,000 children are reporting missing each year, the largest number of whom are runaways, about 200,000 children are the victims of family abduction, about 58,000 children are the victims of nonfamily abduction, and about 115 children are taken by strangers and either murdered, ransomed or taken with the intent to keep.

If as many as 800,000 children are reported missing each year, that means that 2,000 children are reported missing each day. In Canada, the estimates are that about 200 children are reported missing every day.

The Los Angeles Times reported that 45,000 children are reported missing each year in Mexico. That number is an estimate by Aprenem, (Asociacion Pro Recuperacion de Ninos Extraviados y Orientacion de la Juventud de Mexico). If that number is accurate, we could estimate roughly 120 children per day.

Southern California officials estimate at least 200 kidnappings each year tied to Mexican organized crime groups. Texas officials report 4-6 kidnappings per week along the border. The majority of these incidents have been kidnappings of rival criminals, while the greater population has remained relatively untouched. However, in some cases, innocent family members are snatched in retribution.

How do the numbers for countries compare with the rest of the world?

In our hemisphere, the Children’s Rights Council in Brazil estimates about 40,000 children reported missing each year in Brazil.

And a recent report in Europe found that there are

  • 105,000 reported missing children each year in the United Kingdom
  • 50,000 in Germany
  • 39,000 in France
  • 8,400 in Spain
  • 1,100 in Italy
  • 500 in Greece

Yet, those numbers illustrate one obvious question: exactly what are we counting? Are there 50,000 missing children each year in Germany and just 1,100 in Italy or 500 in Greece? We doubt it. Obviously, these variations are likely to be a function of a lack of common definitions, common policy and uniform systems. Every country is not counting the same things.

Further, we know that many of these cases are never reported. Many children and many families, for many reasons, tell no one, and do not reach out for help. In cases of kidnapping for ransom, typically, the families of victims and their captors reach a ransom settlement and arrange for the exchange of cash for the kidnapped victim. Corporate Risk International reported that even though there were more than a thousand such kidnappings reported in 2008, the actual numbers are much higher due to the lack of reporting of the crime for fear of retaliation. According to 2009 reports, 75% of kidnappings go unreported and 90% are unsolved.

So, it is safe to assume that kidnappings involving children are even more under reported. So, as we begin our discussion today, our first assumption must be that there are more of these cases in the United States and in Mexico than those which are reported to police.

The challenges we face along our border are many. Earlier this year, The Los Angeles Times headline read, “Phoenix, Kidnap-For-Ransom Capital.” The New York Times headline shouted, “Kidnappings in Mexico Send Shivers Across the Border.” In April U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder created a new FBI intelligence group focusing on kidnapping and extortion. Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon has deployed 45,000 troops and 5,000 federal police to 18 states to battle drug cartel-linked crime and violence. Nearly 10,000 people have died in the past two years.

How are our children being affected?

(1) Children have been kidnapped and held for ransom.

Today, children are not the primary targets of those who kidnap for ransom. We believe that is largely due to the intense publicity when a child is kidnapped and the rapid response by law enforcement.  Cartel leaders seem to feel that kidnappings of children bring too much media attention and public outrage. In addition, these crimes take planning and perfect execution, as well as protracted bargaining. The kidnappers also fear extradition if they are captured. Finally, they have plenty of adult targets (tourists, businessmen, wealthy families, rival drug dealers, etc.) and the money is given directly to the kidnappers, generally before there is any publicity. Nonetheless, we are still increasing numbers of kidnappings of children for ransom.

(2) Children have been kidnapped as retaliation for some wrong or grievance, or simply to engender fear.

A recent, high-profile example was the kidnapping of 3-year-old Briant Rodriguez of San Bernadino, California. Briant was taken from his own home during a home invasion.  Other family members were tied up. The abductors told the family that they were taking Briant to Mexico to kill him. Media coverage was extensive and through outstanding police work, the abductors were arrested. They said the abduction was for retaliation.

Briant had long hair. We thought the abductors might cut his hair to make him less recognizable. So, we displayed two images on his poster, one with his long hair, and the other created by our forensic artists, with short hair. A police officer in Mexicali encountered a small child walking alone on the streets. When he could not find the child’s parents, he took him to the local DIF office. There, social workers noticed that the child bore a striking resemblance to the child on a National Center poster on the wall. The abductors had shaved Briant’s head. Briant has been reunited with his mother.

There are other examples, including 6-year-old Cole Puffinburger of Las Vegas, abducted by two men posing as police officers, who tied up the boy’s mother and her boyfriend. The investigation revealed that the abduction was the result of the child’s grandfather stealing money from drug cartels. The grandfather was arrested. When it became apparent to the cartels that the child could no longer be used for leverage, they let him go. Cole was found walking alone.  Both abductors were arrested.

Three year old Karen Cervantes of Avondale, Arizona was kidnapped along with her mother as a result of a home invasion by five or six armed men. They told the mother it was because her boyfriend owed them money. The abductors demanded a $100,000 ransom, reduced it to $23,000 and when no payments were made, they released both victims who were recovered four days later. It is believed this was drug related.

(3) Children are being kidnapped or retained by coyotes as extortion.

In many of these cases family members come to the US, find work, become “established”, and then send for left-behind family members. When they hire a coyote group, they pay in advance.Prior to delivery, the coyote will contact the family and often double the price for the left behind people, which often includes the children. The parents’ options are (1) to report this activity to law enforcement, which puts them in jeopardy; (2) to attempt to raise the money by work, or criminal activity, which takes time; (3) to return to Mexico with no guarantee of reunification; or (4) to ignore the demands for more money and suffer the consequences.

These kidnappings are rarely reported. Also, getting victim parents to cooperate with law enforcement is almost impossible. Some of the parents call the National Center rather than the police. Recently, we worked with California law enforcement to try to find a child who reportedly was too young to keep up with the group being brought across the border, and was left behind. The woman who left the child called to tell us that she thought the child had died. Law enforcement was unable to find the child and there was never a report of a missing child that matched the details provided. In another instance we received a call about a missing three year old. The caller would not provide any information other than that the child’s name is Amelia. The caller stated that she was living in the US illegally and had arranged for the child to be transported from Mexico to North Carolina. The caller refused to talk to law enforcement. We are continuing to try to locate the child.

These children are vulnerable in other ways. Four year old Brenda Martinez and her mother were being transported across the border when the mother was caught and returned to Mexico.The coyote took the child to his home in Los Angeles. A month later the mother made it across the border. She contacted the coyote who told her that he wanted a ransom for the child or he would kill her and the child. The ICE investigator determined the identity and location of the coyote, and recovered the child, who had been molested by the two teenaged sons of the abductor.

(4) Children are being abducted and sexually victimized –

We also continue to encounter the more typical child abduction cases in the region. Four year old Lesley Perez was playing in a field with friends. The abductor dimmed the lights in his vehicle, jumped out of his car and grabbed the victim. Her 12 year old sister attempted to help and was knocked to the ground. The abductor shoved Lesley into his car and drove off. For some reason, he called a friend in California and told him what he had done. The friend called the Houston Crimestoppers Tip Line. The abductor was arrested and the child recovered. She had been sexually molested but is recovering.

(5) Children are at risk in other ways –

I fear that we will see growing numbers of innocent victims swept up in these incidents by mistake. For example, in Phoenix in June, a thirteen year old girl was grabbed off the street and thrown into an SUV by kidnappers who mistakenly believed that she was the niece of a drug dealer who helped steal 55 pounds of marijuana. She pleaded with them that she was the wrong person. They hit her over the head and drove off with her. Ultimately, when they confirmed that they had grabbed the wrong child, they let her go.

There are other examples. Recently, The Washington Times reported that Cartel members are using child decoys to gather intelligence about enhanced border security and exploit weaknesses. A US Army report indicated that the Cartels are wedging children into gaps in the cement pylons at the border barriers. The American fire department response is to take down the barriers to rescue these children. Then the Cartels use these gaps to transport people and contraband into the US until repairs are made, sometimes weeks later.

(6) Children are being abducted and taken across the border by non-custodial parents.

This is a huge problem, but one that doesn’t seem as deadly or dramatic. Yet, it is a major problem for our two countries and one that increasingly occupies our time and resources. Overwhelmingly, Mexico is the #1 destination for international child abductions from the United States. And the United States is the #1 destination for international child abductions from Mexico

Mexico and the United States are two of 80 countries that are signatories to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, an international treaty to regulate and control these kinds of difficult cases. The U.S. State Department reports that 65% of all outgoing international parental abductions from the United States to Hague Convention countries are to Mexico, and that 41% of all incoming international parental abductions to the United States are from Mexico.

Currently, the National Center is working 558 cases in which US children have been abducted and taken to Mexico by a non-custodial parent. The country that has the second largest number of current active cases is Japan with 38 cases. In the past five years, 551 cases involving U.S. children taken to Mexico have been successfully resolved, and 459 cases involving Mexican children taken to the U.S. have been successfully resolved.

I believe it is clear that we face a wide range of problems and challenges relating to the abduction of US and Mexican children.It is important to note that these problems are impacting victims on both sides of the border. In June the Latin American Herald Tribune reported that 20,000 migrants a year are kidnapped in Mexico en route to the US. Those kidnapped are subjected to rape, torture and murder and these crimes generally go unresolved and unpunished according to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission. Between September 2008 and February 2009, the commission registered 198 cases of mass kidnappings of migrants involving 9,758 people. It is estimated that the kidnappers make $50 million from this practice annually.

It is also important to recognize that this problem is growing. Phoenix police report encountering assailants using police tactics and masquerading as police with SWAT gear, battle dress uniforms, web gear, vests, assault rifles, and Kevlar helmets. In some cases, they were even wearing authentic Phoenix Police Department t-shirts. Phoenix police report that these offenders work in teams of ten to twenty, utilizing sophisticated tactics, including counter-surveillance.

So, the challenges are enormous. What can we do about them?

First, we must work together, share information and build a comprehensive strategy. This is a problem that individual agencies and jurisdictions cannot solve on their own. Clearly, the US and Mexican governments have taken bold first steps, but there is more to do.

Second, we need to recognize that more children have been affected than we know about, and anticipate that more children will be affected in the future. We will see more cases like that of little Briant Rodriguez, an innocent 3-year-old taken out of retaliation. We need to be prepared and develop the systems and resources to respond quickly.

One resource that has worked incredibly well is the AMBER Alert. It is a voluntary, grassroots initiative, it saves lives, and it is free. The concept is very simple and basic. It is a partnership between law enforcement and broadcasters, using the Emergency Alert System to mobilize the eyes and ears of the public to help in the search for an abducted child. Used most often for weather emergencies, this system is activated by law enforcement and used only for the most serious cases, where the child is at greatest risk, and where there is key descriptive information to provide to the public. Most often the Alert is conveying the description of an automobile or license plate.

Time is the enemy in the search for an abducted child. We must move quickly and we need the public’s help. One of the lessons we have learned is that political boundaries and borders are no barrier to child abductions. Abductors move children quickly. Issuing an AMBER Alert in one state or one community alone may not be enough if the abductor transports the child somewhere else. Jurisdictions must work together and cooperate with neighboring jurisdictions. Today, there are 120 Amber Plans across the United States including statewide plans in every state. To date, 467 children have been recovered as a direct result of the AMBER program.

We are very encouraged by the positive experience from our bi-national AMBER system with Baja, California. Since 2005, 21 children have been recovered through the use of AMBER Alerts in Mexico. Today, US Customs and Border Protection agents receive our AMBER feed, and we hope to initiate the same system with Mexico’s Customs and Border Protection personnel.

Regional and cross-border approaches are so vital. In January 2007 I attended a meeting in Paris with the then-President of France, Jacques Chirac. The first thing President Chirac said to me was, “just last week we saved two French abducted children through the use of your AMBER Alert system.” In Europe where 27 countries are located in such close proximity with each other, cross-border systems are essential. The European Union is now exploring the implementation of cross-border/regional AMBER Alert systems.

We have made progress through the creation of regional AMBER Alerts in the United States. Today, there are 29 regional plans in the United States. We hope that can be increased through expanded cross-border plans with Mexico.

Third and finally, as we address this complex, daunting problem, I commit to you the services, assistance and support of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in the United States, and of the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children. Previously, I mentioned a few of the ways that the International Centre is working with Mexico. Let me mention some of the resources of the National Center that we will provide to assist in transnational child abduction cases.

  • We work in close coordination with ICE and maintain strong crossing contacts through ICE and the Border Patrol.
  • We have a team of experts, called Team Adam, whom we dispatch immediately to breaking cases in which children are at serious risk. They advise and assist law enforcement agencies, provide technology or whatever support is necessary.
  • We have strong media partners, including Univision and Telemundo, who help us bring quick and intensive media visibility in breaking cases.
  • We have 400 strong photo partners who help us disseminate posters of missing children across the region.
  • We work in close cooperation with the U.S. State Department and its Office of Children’s Issues.
  • We have built a strong network of contacts across the region, including key law enforcement and social services professionals with strong interest in and commitment to protecting children.

There is a lot of work to do. Yet, it is clear that we can solve these problems if we make the protection of the children of Mexico and the United States a top priority and if we work together.