Only 7,000 sign up for Ananda Alert

STATE Minister Robert Montague yesterday appealed to more Jamaicans to register to receive the Ananda Alert on their cellphones, saying he was disappointed that only 7,000 people had done so to date.

Ananda Alert — a multi-agency response to a missing child report — is modelled after America’s Amber Alert and is named after 11-year-old Ananda Dean who was abducted and brutally murdered last year.

But speaking at the Observer’s weekly Monday Exchange meeting at the company’s Beechwood Avenue Offices in Kingston yesterday, Montague, who has responsibility for local government, said the response of the more than two million Jamaican cellphone subscribers was lacklustre.

“The take-up from the public in responding to our appeals has not been very good. At last count we had about 7,000 persons who had sent texts to Digicel to say yes they wanted to be part of the network.

“We make the appeal because the next child that goes missing could be yours. It could be your neighbour’s child or a relative of yours and therefore we are saying to people help us because in helping us you also might be helping yourself,” Montague said.

He added: “This is where we are going to ask the Observer to partner with us to get this information out and keep the number in the faces of the general public so they can text in and get onto the network.”

Under the Ananda Alert programme, once a child goes missing, a report should be made to the nearest police station. The police will then notify all Ananda Alert stakeholders comprising mobile companies, media houses, local authorities, parish councils who will then mobilise community groups.

After 12-hours, photos of the missing child will be placed on electronic/mobile billboards, bus parks, supermarkets, community centre, church halls, schools and post offices and other public spaces.

“It is our local response to child abduction and children running away from home and we are working with the National Parent’s Association and the police,” Montague sad yesterday.

In the meantime, the minister said it was not all gloom as though while only 7,000 persons are officially signed up, more persons were being reached because individuals have been using their blackberry smartphones to forward the alerts to persons on their contact lists.

Persons wishing to receive alerts should text the word HELP to 444-2432 to be automatically entered on the network. Once an alert is issued, a description of the child and the last known place they were seen will be transmitted.

According to a report issued by the interest group, Hear the Children's Cry, in November of this year more than 1,200 children had gone missing since January 1. The research also found that teenage girls were being held hostage by inner-city thugs, who sometime impregnate them or infect them with sexually transmitted diseases.

The findings also revealed that of that number, three children had been confirmed murdered, while 537 were never heard from again. Six hundred and seventy-six children had returned home.

Sixteen-year-old girls account for most of the missing children’s cases, the research revealed. Convenor of the group, Betty Ann Blaine, at the time called for the establishment of a special police unit to investigate such cases. Yesterday, Montague told the Observer that he was in full support of any such initiative.

Alicia Dunkley

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