Missing children (clockwise from top) Madeleine McCann, Rahma el-Dennaoui, William Tyrrell and Bradford Pholi.

While we are still on the lookout for William, perhaps we have forgotten that 20,000 children are reported missing in Australia every year. Jacinta Coelho discusses unconscious biases towards missing children.

YOU WOULD BE LIVING under a rock if you didn't know who William Tyrrell is.

The smiley (then) three-year-old boy in his Spiderman costume captured the attention of the masses when he suddenly disappeared on 12 September 2014 from his foster grandmother's house while playing hide and seek. 

Most people, especially parents, feel sympathy for the Tyrrell family. There would be endless, excruciating, gut-wrenching sleepless nights agonising over what has happened to your child. The family as yet do not have closure as William is still missing without a trace. 

Police have grave concerns surrounding the disappearance. If a person is not found after the first 72 hours of a disappearance, the chances of finding them are greatly reduced.

Four years after William Tyrrel's disappearance there has been no real breakthrough. Police have managed to find a toy in the bushland near the Tyrrell's residence in Kendall, NSW, but it is unknown whether this toy is linked to William. 

The question is not whether you have sympathy for the Tyrrells — of course, we all do. It just seems as though every now and then, the public becomes infatuated with one particular case of a missing child. Another international example of this is Madeleine McCann

Dig a little deeper into our unconscious bias and then we may see why we are infatuated with the Tyrrell case.

We can do this by asking some questions and applying some small changes in the circumstances:

  • What if William was Aboriginal? 
  • What if he was Muslim?  
  • What if he was overweight?
  • What if he was non-Caucasian?
  • What if he was autistic?
  • What if he had Down syndrome?

If any of the above were the case, would it dim the level of media exposure? Maybe. 

But while we are still on the lookout for William, perhaps we have forgotten that 20,000 children are reported missing in Australia every year. Not all of those children have the same leverage with the media. Many of these cases will mean that parents will never see their children again. William Tyrrell is one of 20,000.

Rahma El-Dennaoui, the 18-month-old Lebanese girl who went missing from her cot, had some media exposure but not to the extent of William Tyrrell. 

The reward for Rahma El-Dennaoui was $250,000.

Bradford Pholi went missing in 1982 as a ten-year-old boy. Bradford and his family are Indigenous Australians, but he has not been found to this day and the reward for him was a mere $100,000.

Currently, the price for information on William Tyrrell is $1 million dollars, but who decides this amount? And why hasn't this amount been evenly spread among other missing children? 

We cannot evaluate certain children as being "worth more" than others. The NSW Deputy Premier and Minister for Police suggested that this case was "unique". This is the highest reward ever offered in NSW. 

That is easy to forget when we see pictures of him in his Spiderman suit. We've personalised it. We empathise with the Tyrrells. We want him found. 

Every child deserves a chance to be found. Yes, the Tyrrells are suffering, but they are suffering like every other family that has a missing child. 

The media spotlight should be shared with other missing children, particularly ones that are less known to the public. Our unconscious bias needs to be put aside — we cannot be selective when it comes to missing children or put different prices on children's worth.

They are all worthy of being found.

You can follow Jacinta Coelho on Twitter @jacintacoelho8.

You can follow Jacinta Coelho on Twitter @jacintacoelho8.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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