Tue | Aug 20, 2019

Drive on to revamp Ananda Alert

Published:Wednesday | May 22, 2019 | 12:28 AMDanae Hyman/Staff Reporter

Heightened public education, sensitisation and added training in search and recovery are part of a mix of solutions currently under review for the revamping of the Ananda Alert system.

The initiatives, which will be carried out by the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), are expected to assist in quicker recovery of children who go missing.

“We are looking to get more partners so we can better reach the children, and in observance of the system’s 10th anniversary, we will also be doing a TV feature to promote and to highlight the system, and we are also going to be doing a forum, among other things,” CEO of the CPFSA, Rosalie Gage-Grey, told The Gleaner.

The Ananda Alert system was launched in May 2009 following outcry over the murder of 11-year-old Ananda Dean, whose body was found nearly two weeks after she was abducted in September 2008.

According to Gage-Grey, the child-­recovery programme has been hobbled by a lack of awareness campaigns, as well as uncertainty about how quickly parents should formally report children missing to the police.

There is also unease surrounding how quickly the police issue advisories.

“We can’t blast until the police say ‘blast’ because it is a criminal matter. We have to work with them to see how timely this can be, and recently, the police commissioner said that efforts will be made to improve the timeliness,” Gage-Grey said.

In the meantime, Betty Ann Blaine, founder of Hear The Children’s Cry, an advocacy group committed to the welfare of Jamaica’s children, said the Ananda Alert system should also have a preventative component as more than 80 per cent of missing children are runaways.

She said increased community engagement and more frequent visits to schools to give talks to children would mitigate the incidence of missing children.

“Children who are happy at home don’t run away, and we realise that it is sometimes their situation at home which causes them to leave. Also, before a child runs away, they tell at least one friend, so when we go into the schools and we talk and tell the students to listen if [their] friends say they are going to run away, do this; it will really help,” Blaine said.

Last year, 1,512 children were reported missing, with girls (1,164) outnumbering boys (348) three to one. Of this number, 155 girls and 31 boys are still missing. One boy and four girls were reported dead.

Police statistics show that for the period January 1 to April 30 2019, 413 girls and 104 boys were reported ­missing, with 126 girls and 26 boys still unaccounted for.

danae.hyman@gleanerjm.com