BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Observer senior reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
CLAYTON Hall believes that the abduction of children from school compounds is further complicated by gaps in the flow of information that have placed schools in an uncertain position at times.
"We have found that one of the major drawbacks is that it is difficult for us to determine which of these students went of their own volition or those who were lured under duress," Hall, the immediate past president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview, noting that not all cases make headlines.
"The other challenge is that sometimes when these children return home they don't necessarily return to school at the same time, and so many times they are thought to be missing for longer than they really are," Hall pointed out.
He, however, noted that schools have been trying their best to contribute to the smooth flow of investigations.
"When parents come to report to the school that they are unable to locate the children... we ask that the schools and teachers notify the requisite persons," Hall told the Observer.
In the meantime, he said parents and guardians need to play their role in making sure that relevant information gets to key persons, including school officials.
"If a child is missing, and we are informed, we turn that matter over to the police. So under those conditions the school has no interface because it becomes a police investigation. If the parent does not inform the school when the child returns, chances are the school will not know, or if the child returns to school, sometimes the school makes the assumption the police were informed," Hall explained.
"We also need to focus on parent education. This gap in the information flow uses the resources of the police to continue to investigate and search for a child who has already returned home, when they could be looking for another missing child," he said further.
According to data from the International Labour Organisation (ILO), there are nearly 5.5 million children worldwide who are victims of trafficking. A recent study found that from 2006-2010, 4,870 children in Jamaica were reported missing -- 70 per cent of them girls. Nearly 60 per cent did not return home. Since the start of the year, police statistics say over 1,000 children have been reported missing.
Last week, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the JTA joined forces under an anti-trafficking pilot project to address the increase in instances of child trafficking in both countries.
In July this year, the Jamaica Government announced that electronic billboards with information and pictures of missing children would be placed at strategic locations across the island as part of the Ananda Alert System. These billboards should assist the public in identifying children more quickly and hopefully prompting them to call the Office of the Children's Registry or the nearest police station.
The Ananda Alert System, introduced in 2009 following the gruesome murder of 11-year-old Ananda Dean who was abducted in 2008, was designed to facilitate the speedy and safe return of children who go missing or are abducted.