THE EDITOR, Sir:
Between July 22 and August 30, there have been 28 children reported missing via the Ananda Alert system. Had it not been for a situation that has struck close to home, I would have remained in the dark about the extent of what must be an epidemic of missing children in Jamaica.
And in case one may think that August was just an odd month statistically, an Internet search of issued alerts will reflect no fewer than 15 reports per month going all the way back to 2010.
Being trained neither in criminology nor adolescent social work, I do not wish to shout at the wind in terms of the root causes that would give rise to the missing children problem. But I am entitled to wonder aloud about the action plan of the authorities to address this situation.
First off, we need effective and continuous public education and awareness about the Ananda Alert system. What is it, how does it work, how can I support the effectiveness of the system? Such awareness will reveal how many of these children are recovered; how many were acting up and simply being truant and have since been returned home; how many were fleeing abuse; how many went missing because of criminal abduction; how many cases have been solved or closed?
If the national reproach against this epidemic does not rank with the importance supposedly given to pursuing the lotto scammers and murderers, the stage is set for much hand-wringing.
The new buzzphrase is 'joined-up government'. The Jamaica Constabulary Force is key to all investigations and is a key partner to the Ananda Alert system. But what other relevant agencies should be playing a part in such a task force? Are cyber investigative technologies being combined with hard-nosed, on-the-ground detective work?
Official reports at September 2009 spoke to 676 children being returned, compared to 1,206 reported missing. Supposing the percentage is even 60 per cent for returned children, are we satisfied that four of every 10 children reported missing will never be heard of again?
It has been three years since the launch of the Ananda Alert system, a promising legacy to the tragic kidnapping and murder of Ananda Dean. The beauty of her smile in the publicity photos juxtaposed with the tearful images of her mother should be more than enough to stir us to demand that more and better work is done in this area.