ESA title

Space for Safeguarding of Children

  • Opportunity Open Competition
  • Activity Feasibility Study
  • Opening date 06-09-2024
  • Closing date 06-11-2024
  • WEBINAR 05 September 2024 - 11:00 CEST Register

Funding opportunity

Protecting children from abuse and exploitation is a societal imperative that is entrenched in the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and in the pursuit of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16.2: “End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children”. However, it is a global – and often silent – epidemic. It happens in every country and every community and across all cultural and socio-economic contexts. According to studies, one in two children experiences violence every year, totalling one billion children across the globe

In the case of the safety of migratory children, their wellbeing is also pursued by SDG 10.7: “Facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies.” Migratory children face additional threats beyond abuse and exploitation, including a lack of basic human necessities such as proper nutrition, healthcare, shelter, and water on their journey to their destination country.

The intended Invitation to Tender (ITT) investigates the opportunities for innovative and sustainable space-enabled solutions that support the safeguarding of children and young people across the globe. It will investigate the integration of space data and technology with complementary data derived from digital and terrestrial sources to tackle the issues stated below, addressing SDG 16.2 and 10.7 through sustainable services.

The Challenge

There is a global need to improve existing tools and develop new ones to identify and address the issue of missing children. The International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC), as well as the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), have identified room for improvement of such tools. ICMEC has developed their own case management, communication, and public alerting platform for use by law enforcement and other organisations to help them locate missing children.

This opportunity is supported by ICMEC, which has provided use cases and will support resultant activities by providing user requirements and recommendations towards establishing sustainable space-based services for the safeguarding of children.

Topics of relevance

Examples of services that could be relevant are outlined below. The list is not exhaustive as other services could also be analysed if duly supported by the user communities.

Protecting migrant children

Protecting migrant children is especially important for humanitarian institutions, given that children on the move face a greater chance of abuse and exploitation. Unaccompanied children are often left in a protracted state of vulnerability and can easily fall victim to abuse and exploitation.

The protection of children on the move requires a multi-sectoral response regionally, nationally, and globally. Organisations like ICMEC have made real progress to help others recognise this imperative and take action. Recent examples of progress made include the UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration agreement established in 2018, as well as other organisations that have sounded the alarm such as the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the Red Cross, and UNICEF.

However, the response to the needs of migratory children has not gone far enough to ensure their safety. Stronger tools and mechanisms are needed to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of coordination across migrant focused organisations and efforts.

It is essential that authorities and NGOs know the routes taken by migrants so that they can provide comprehensive assistance to migrants ‒ not only to combat abuse and exploitation, but also to provide basic human needs.

Missing children

There are hundreds of thousands of missing children reports each year. However, these reports provide only a snapshot — there are few reliable statistics on the scope of the problem. In several countries, there are no statistics available on missing children at all, and the statistics that are available are often inaccurate

Children may flee their homes for a variety of reasons following trauma, including surviving violence and exploitation, witnessing and experiencing abuse, being victims of human trafficking, or even being exposed to armed conflict. Once an unaccompanied child is on their own, they often rely on traffickers due to restrictive border enforcements between their home country and destination/transit countries, who may expose them to further exploitation and/ or kidnapping.

One of the biggest barriers to identifying trafficked children is the availability of dependable, timely, spatially explicit and scalable data on trafficking activity. However, by using spatiotemporal information of missing populations, it is possible to predict the locations of missing persons on a large scale.

Value of space

It is likely that the proposed activities will make use of multiple space technologies and/or data. Some of the most effective use cases come from a marriage between satellite imagery and complementary sources of information such as digital and ground-derived data.

Examples of the potential non-exhaustive uses of space technologies and satellite data for this Feasibility Study are outlined below:

Satellite Earth Observation (SatEO)

Change detection paired with call records and social media data can be used to undertake trend estimation techniques to provide indicators on suspicious areas to be monitored and prompt further analysis. This would be useful in and around national borders to highlight potential areas and/or routes used for trafficking.

Likewise, Earth observation change detection can be paired with machine learning techniques to determine ‘patterns of life’ over time, i.e. to identify when unusual activities take place relative to the normal or expected use of a given site.

For the identification of patterns that point to more permanent places of exploitation, very-high resolution (VHR) imagery can be used to characterise elements such as land-use, building types, and population density. This information can be utilised as proxies or areas of interest regarding permanent places that could harbour children forced into exploitation.

Alternatively, hot spot analysis could correlate movements of people embarking or disembarking on ships that spoof or hide their own automatic identification system (AIS) signals. Such ships could harbour trafficked children.
Radio frequency (RF) analytics that identify potential RF emitters along a migration route may also be leveraged to support in identification of unusual patterns, which is useful in the planning of delivering comprehensive assistance to migrants.

Satellite Positioning, Navigation and Timing (SatPNT)

SatPNT is essential in enabling services which leverage unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to take more detailed observations close to the ground to bring detailed insights on suspicious activity. Satellite positioning information may be useful for the tracking of relevant persons and/or to support frontline responder units.

Satellite Communications (Satcom)

Satcom could be used in remote locations to raise an alert of malicious activity where alternative communications are lacking. Satcom may also be used for redundant communications for drones operating in remote regions or those with unreliable connectivity, or subject to intentional/unintentional interference.

What we look for

We look for promising business ideas addressing the topics of relevance or related areas that propose:

  • Sustainable service concepts
  • Technically feasible solutions
  • Added value of space data or technology
  • Motivated teams with commercial, technical, and domain expertise

Feasibility Studies explore the sustainability potential and technical viability of new applications and services that exploit one or more space assets (e.g. satellite communications, satellite navigation, Earth observation, spaceflight technology spinouts). Feasibility Studies should evaluate the technical and economic sustainability potential of the service but have the objective of eventual development, demonstration and operational provision of the service investigated thereafter (if proven viable).

What we offer

Up to 200,000 Euro (firm-fixed ESA price), 80% of the maximum total cost of 250,000 Euro.

ESA tender information

Bidders shall submit their full proposals according to the procedure provided in ESA-STAR.

How to apply

  1. Register by completing the online questionnaire on esa-star registration (this provides for the minimum ‘light registration’).
  2. Visit esa-star publications and search for this opportunity to download the official tender documentation. Official documents will include proposal templates, a draft contract, and additional information about this opportunity.
  3. Write your proposal and obtain a Letter of Support from your National Delegation, if needed (see Authorisation of Funding section below).
  4. Submit your proposal via esa-star tendering before the deadline (do not wait until the last minute). 

Authorisation of funding

To be eligible for funding, your team must be based in one of the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden, and Switzerland. Teams can involve non-European entities, but their contribution to the activity cannot be funded by ESA. Authorisation of Funding letters from the corresponding National Delegations are required as part of the application.


A webinar is scheduled for 5 September 2024 at 10:00 BST. Please sign up using the link at the top of the page.

Webinar guest speaker: Bob Cunningham, International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC).