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Ananda Alert ails

Published:Monday | May 21, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Maxine Taylor-Cooper

Andewale McLaughlin, Staff Reporter

Missing-children recovery scheme failing to get desired results

With more than 300 children who went missing since last year still unaccounted for, there are concerns that the national missing-children recovery programme - the Ananda Alert - is not working effectively.

"I am not sure we are getting 100 per cent from it," said Maxine Taylor-Cooper, the acting executive director of Hear The Children's Cry, an advocacy group committed to the welfare of Jamaica's children.

While Taylor-Cooper acknowledges that there has been an improvement in terms of reporting, since more parents now report their children missing within 24 hours instead of waiting a day or more, she believes the recovery effort needs a boost.

"I don't think enough is being done to protect and to rescue our children. Much more can be done," she told The Gleaner.

Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison believes the programme is not doing as well as it ought to because of a shortage of resources.

"I think that it is a good system, but I think it perhaps needs more support. I think the system needs to be boosted to make it more effective," she told The Gleaner.

"One of the fundamental issues is the human-resource constraints, because when you have a secretariat which comprises one single human being, who has the responsibility islandwide to treat with this kind of mechanism, it is going to present a challenge."

Gordon Harrison added: "It is working to an extent - certainly in terms of identifying those persons who have gone missing and sending out a clarion call - but in terms of making it more effective now, I think there is room for improvement in that regard."

Launched in May 2009 following an outcry spurred by the murder of 11-year-old Ananda Dean - whose body was found after a near two-week search since she was abducted in September 2008 - several areas of the Ananda Alert, which were touted as steps in the right direction at the launch of the programme, seem to have not got off the ground.

It was mooted that after 12 hours, pictures of missing children would be placed in public spaces, including supermarkets, churches, noticeboards in public markets, and electronic billboards.

Another aspect of the programme - which is administered by the Ministry of Local Government - allowing for members of the public to receive a description of children who go missing and send photos, if available, also seems to be in disarray.

Failed test

In a Gleaner test of the system, the word 'HELP' was sent to the Digicel number (444-2432) posted on the Ministry of Local Government's website a few months ago and a message received confirming subscription. However, more than 300 children were reported missing since March without a single alert being received via text.

While subscribing to the service via Digicel was free, an $85 fee was charged to subscribe to LIME's service via 444-4230, the number posted for the company on the ministry's website.

Several attempts to get officials from the ministry to comment on the state of the programme proved futile.

However, Gordon Harrison emphasised that the public should not depend solely on the Ananda Alert to try and stem the missing-children problem.

"I think, though, that we need to sustain the efforts that are being made not only through Ananda Alert, but certainly other partners need to come on board. We need to sensitise parents, for example, and caregivers through public-education campaigns that have to be continuous, that can help them to empower themselves to assist with the protection of their children."

She added: " If you look typically at a lot of the children who go missing, they are children who the supervision isn't as good as it could be - from a home and community perspective - and so I think that we, as a nation, need to be more proactive in taking care of ourselves and our children and also help the children to have little tips that they can use to protect themselves sometimes and not to make themselves as vulnerable to persons who would want to take advantage of them and cause them to go missing."

andewale.mclaughlin @gleanerjm.com