Between July 22 and August 30 of this year, 28 children have been reported as 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 less than 15 reports per month going all the way back to 2010.
Though not fully informed of the Ananda Alert system and how it is supposed to work, I nonetheless feel a sense of outrage, perhaps fuelled by my connection to this present case, and perhaps due to feelings of helplessness.
Being trained neither in criminology nor adolescent social work, I do not wish to shout at the wind in terms of the underlying root causes that would give rise to the missing children problem. But I believe that until I have further particulars, I am entitled to wonder aloud about the action plan of the authorities to address this situation in its various dimensions.
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 playing truant and have since been returned home; how many were fleeing abuse; how many went missing due to criminal abduction; how many cases have been solved or closed?
The public deserves to know if there is a task force resourced to deal with Ananda Alerts. Resources are always finite and we cannot act on multiple national priorities with equal diligence always. But if the national reproach against this epidemic does not rank with the importance supposedly given to pursuing the lotto scammers and criminal murderers, then the stage is set for very little to be done.
The new buzz phrase is "joined up government", an appealing phrase that should speak to effective and coordinated efforts of agencies of the state. No doubt the Jamaica Constabulary Force is key to all investigations and I assume that it 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? If the problem is as big as it seems, perhaps there should be a dedicated and active missing children's unit in the JCF.
Official reports at September 2009 spoke to 676 children being returned compared to 1,206 reported missing. Supposing the percentage of returned children is even 60 per cent, are we satisfied that four of every 10 children reported missing will never be heard of again?
Many rumours abound, and while there may be dubious value in countenancing them all, we need to probe where necessary.
Is there local human trafficking of children? Are they being forced into
While I have not seen it myself, I am aware that there are social media sites that carry graphic images and blogs of children being held against their will in Jamaica. Surely, the authorities charged with protecting the rights of children must be aware of this.
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.