BRUSSELS, Belgium – The parents of missing British girl Madeleine McCann implored the European Union on Thursday to set up a cross-border alert system for abducted children.
Kate and Gerry McCann, whose daughter disappeared from a Portuguese resort in May 2007 just days before her 4th birthday, called for a system that would supply information on a missing child to the media, border authorities, and police and law enforcement officials across Europe.
They told lawmakers in the European Parliament that the system could be modeled on a similar program in the United States, the so-called "Amber" alert. They noted that the U.S. program helped recover 68 kidnapped children in 2007 — and several hundred over the past five years.
"The goal of a child rescue alert is to instantly galvanize the entire community to assist in the recovery of the child," Kate McCann told lawmakers.
Three EU countries — Britain, France and Greece — have their own child rescue alerts. In France, it was used five times last year, with all five children successfully recovered, said Gerry McCann, Madeleine's father.
He and his wife pushed for one phone number to be used for the alert system throughout Europe.
"The costs of setting up such a system are relatively low. Please do not wait for another child and family to suffer as we have," Kate McCann said.
In the United States, every state has its own alert system, with some grouped into regional alerts. The McCanns want European lawmakers to issue a declaration calling for such a system in Europe.
The European Commission last year proposed an EU-wide hot line for missing children but it has yet to be implemented.
Kate McCann could not say whether an EU alert would have helped find Madeleine. "But I believe the chances for recovery would have been higher," she said.
"We certainly still have hope ... there's a good chance Madeleine is still out there. None of us knows what happened to Madeleine, but we have absolutely no evidence whatsoever that she has suffered any harm," she said.
Police in Portugal have given no indication whether they intend to bring charges or drop the case against the McCanns, who have been named suspects in Madeleine's disappearance. They deny any responsibility.
Madeleine's saga has fascinated Britain since she vanished. But Kate McCann said the first anniversary of Madeleine's disappearance will be private.
The McCanns said they were undecided whether to go back to Portugal for a police reconstruction of the events on the night when Madeleine went missing, but ruled out going there on May 3.
While the couple — who have two other children — were in Brussels, police in Britain were questioning friends they dined with on the night when Madeleine disappeared as a three-member team of detectives from Portugal listened in.