Every 40 seconds, a child goes missing in the United States. This means that each year, approximately 840,000 children are reported missing. And although authorities resolve most reports within hours, many children are still missing today.

Most of them are Latino children.

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According to a Telemundo News analysis, as of April 4, 2024, 414 children up to age 12 were reported missing in official records from 2003 to 2023 in the United States. The analysis, based on data from the National Center for Missing and Exposed Children (NMEC), Latino children lead that statistic with 130 reported cases.

A disturbing wave of missing Latino children

NMEC figures indicate that approximately one out of every three children up to age 12 reported missing during the past two decades is Latino.

“In general, we have about 4,500 missing minors in the United States who have active wanted posters on our website. Those are only the cases that we know of. Of that number, around 23% are Hispanic/ Latinos. It is certainly a large population that worries us,” said John Bischoff, the center’s vice president of the missing minors division.

According to Bischoff, NMEC statistics on missing children are based on official records from the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs).

However, the figure could be much higher

To make matters worse, according to Bischoff, the data is not always accurate. Although NMEC has the most accurate figures, other agencies record ethnicity differently. This registration is often optional, as it is not federally mandated but voluntary.

This could explain why there are often discrepancies in the overall number of missing persons in the United States.

“Collecting data on missing people of color poses numerous problems,” Danielle Slakoff, a criminal justice professor at California State University-Sacramento, told Telemundo. “In official data sources, Hispanics are often grouped with whites. Missing Indigenous people are also often misclassified.”

Whatever the case, the disappearances have patterns in common

As Bischoff continued, although Hispanics represent 19.1% of the U.S. population, they account for 23% of missing children cases. This implies that missing Latino children “exceed the national average, and that is a cause for concern.”

However, when explaining the reasons for disappearance, Bischoff assures that the patterns are always the same. The center groups the reports into several sections, including fugitives in danger, family abductions, nonfamily abductions, and missing, injured, or missing for other reasons.

So what makes Latino children more vulnerable?

As Trent Steele, director of the Anti-Predator Project, told NBC News, the higher incidence of Latino children reported missing has to do “with specific issues plaguing marginalized communities.”

“I think that in the Latino and Black communities, the numbers are a little higher because they are affected by situations of poverty and inequality,” Steele said, adding that “many are put in situations where they disappear and flee.”

Similarly, some Latino parents consider the United States safer than their home countries and let children play in the street more freely.

What to do if a child disappears?

As Bischoff and Steele told NBC News, the steps to follow are clear: check with relatives, friends, and caregivers. Then, contact the police in the area.

“Your second phone call should be to us, to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. We have a call center, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. They are always there to answer questions. When a child is missing, you have to give all the information and help the authorities spread the word,” Bischoff said.