Missing J'can kids to be listed on global network

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT Observer staff reporter hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, November 12, 2015

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THE Hear The Children's Cry (HTCC) Missing Children's Support Programme has been granted membership in the Global Missing Children's Network (GMCN), which should increase the possibility of more missing Jamaican kids being found.


Wih the new arrangement, photographs, where available, and data for every child reported missing in Jamaica will be posted to the GMCN's international website interface and database -- a potentially life-saving move for missing children who may have been trafficked to other countries.


The announcement was made Wednesday at a press conference held by the child lobby group at the Jamaica Yellow Pages (JYP) offices in Kingston. Jamaica is the 24th country member and first Caribbean country to join the GMCN.


Betty Ann Blaine, child advocate and founder of HTCC, said as a result of the membership her group "no longer feels alone or isolated as they struggle to find solutions for this epidemic of missing children".


Blaine said: "The situation regarding missing children remains a very serious problem at all levels of the Jamaican society, and while the Office of the Children's Registry reports a slight decline in missing children the numbers are much too high for our comfort and much too high for a country with a population of 2.8 million."


According to Blaine, for the months of January through August this year, 1,377 children were reported missing with 1,095 being girls and 282 boys. Of that number, 1,101 returned home (876 girls and 225 boys), five are deceased (three boys and two girls) and 271 are still missing (217 girls and 54 boys).


Blaine said while 75 to 80 per cent return home, 20 per cent of Jamaica's missing children go unaccounted for "month after month and year after year".


She added that the new membership in the GMCN is expected to provide significant benefits, particularly as it relates to those children who've been missing for long periods of time, and will allow for collaboration between other GMCN member states to introduce policies to address the "urgent crisis".


"One of the benefits is that HTCC will have access to the global network and we'll be able to participate in the network's conference, starting immediately with their annual conference in Singapore in December this year. We look forward to closing gaps, working with those in authority to introduce policies and if necessary legislation to adequately address this urgent crisis. Establishing a national database, introducing case management and risk management systems, strengthening cross-border policies and programmes are some of the initiatives we are seeking to pursue and improve upon with the support of GMCN," Blaine said.


Guest speaker Caroline Humer, senior executive with the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC) in Virginia, USA, said while there is no silver bullet for the global issue of missing children, we have to work together to build awareness and mechanisms to help fight the problem, instead of pointing fingers.


"It's not a quick fix [as] it will take time and effort to do this. Every day children anywhere in the world go missing. Many are runaways, some are missing for no reason, some are victims of family abductions. You can't compare one country to the other as each country has a different definition for 'missing'. What you consider missing in Jamaica is different what someone would consider missing in Peru, Argentina or England. Also, some countries don't have a database and oftentimes estimate from a paper," Humer said.


She also called for a greater awareness of the policies and guidelines of the country, cross- border collaborations to increase restrictions on children leaving the country, a recording mechanism for missing children and a photo distribution system, and commended the HTCC for the Ananda Alert and similar programmes with this focus.


Additionally, Humer said the GMCN will bring together its 24 country members to offer expertise and best practices to reduce the number of missing children globally.


Other benefits of the network include training in the use of the GMCN website and related practical assistance, participation in the ICMEC programmes and conferences relating to missing children, assistance in awareness building on the issue of missing children targeted to government, law enforcement, NGOs and other stakeholders when necessary, and participation along with fellow GMCN members worldwide in the commemoration of May 25 as International Missing Children's Day.


Meanwhile, the press conference was used to launch the new HTCC website --www.hearthechildrencryja.com, which was upgraded by the Jamaica Yellow Pages -- the group's six-year sponsor.


Andrea Harrisingh, Digital Fulfilment Supervisor of the JYP who had gone missing when she was a toddler, said the website, which is fully automised and able to work on all mobile devices, will feature the names of missing children, their photographs, age, when they went missing and will also keep an update on their status if they have been found.


"I was kidnapped by my [parents'] helper for 18 days when I was 18 months old. Through the help of my parents and ([a report with photograph] in the newspaper I was found. Many children are not found, so this website will be able to reach more people," she said.


Harrisingh added that future plans include integrating a Facebook page for similar purposes and having it updated regularly so that content is always on the website.


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