Sat | May 27, 2017

One goes missing every 180 minutes

Published:Sunday | July 12, 2015 | 7:00 AMSherine Williams
Katia Dantas, (left) policy director for Latin America and the Caribbean with the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children chat with Lester Ganett, general manager of Jamaica Yellow Pages and Betty Ann Blaine, child advocate and founder of Hear the Children's Cry during a press conference to announce National Missing Children's Awareness Week last May.

On any given day, at least eight Jamaicans make the missing-persons' list, although most eventually return home.

At least one person is reported missing every three hours in Jamaica as the police have recorded eight missing persons' reports each day for a total of 9,715 between January 2012 and April 2015.

However, the police National Intelligence Bureau (NIB) is reporting that almost 90 per cent of the people reported missing over the period returned home.

This is the positive sign for Assistant Commissioner of Police Carlton Wilson, director of the NIB, who says Jamaica is not experiencing a crisis despite the high numbers reported missing yearly.

According to Wilson, the major concern for the police is that many persons do not notify them when the missing person returns home.

"Sometimes, it's when some persons are charged with an offence years later and they turn up at a station that we get information about them and see that they were reported missing years ago," Wilson told The Sunday Gleaner.

"No one reported that they had returned, so we sometimes can't know because over time people change contact numbers and things like that. We have a system in place where we do follow-up calls, and it is at this point that we usually discover that these persons have actually returned home," added Wilson.

He said when someone is reported missing, the police investigate until the person is found, and there are serious implications when the investigators are not notified of the return of the missing persons.

"We have to put them on a watch list at our ports, and as long as they remain outstanding, they remain on the watch list. So, for example, if a child returns home and the police are not notified, years later, that child might be trying to board a plane to leave the island and might encounter problems.

"They might be stopped and questioned by authorities because they would still be on the watch list, and this can be a hassle as people can miss their flight and even lose their plane fare," said Wilson.

The senior cop said children who are reported missing are priorities for the cops.

The NIB statistics show that children accounted for more than 70 per cent of those reported missing over the three-year period between 2012 and 2015 with the 12 to 17 age group accounting for most of the missing children.

According to Wilson, many of these children run away from their homes because of treatment meted out to them.

"The fact that so many of them find some sort of solace elsewhere and not in the home is something that stands out to me. There are four major problems that cause children to leave home: peer pressure, sexual relationships, disagreement at home, and gang influence," said Wilson.

Recently Jamaica was lauded for leading the region in sustainable mechanisms that have been implemented to deal with the issue of missing children.

Katia Dantas, policy director for Latin America and the Caribbean with the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, argued that while there are several barriers that Jamaica needs to tackle, the work do so far has been admirable.

"From my knowledge and work thus far in the Caribbean, the only country that is working with some sort of numbers and cohesiveness is Jamaica," Dantas told The Gleaner during a visit to the island to mark Missing Children Awareness Week, in May.