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Minister of State with responsibility for Local Government Reform in the Office of the Prime Minister, Robert Montague, has informed that he would be working with various stakeholders to establish an islandwide child-abduction alert system.
The system, which is to be launched during Local Government Month (November), will be spearheaded by the Department of Local Government in the Office of the Prime Minister, in conjunction with the Association of Local Government Authorities (ALGA), which is the representative body for the island’s 14 Local Government Authorities, and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).
Speaking at a meeting with key stakeholders at the Department of Local Government in Kingston, on October 23, Mr. Montague said that this need to establish the child-abduction system, follows discussions with the Authorities, concerning the recent spate of child abductions.
“We were in discussions, (as to) how we are going to tackle this monster that has beset this wonderful country of ours. When the nation was galvanised with this horrible abduction (of Ananda Dean), we met in Portland with the Executive of ALGA and a number of issues came out,” Mr. Montague said.
One of those issues, he said, is the need for co-operation between the JCF and the Local Authorities. The challenge faced by the JCF in terms of technology, especially in deep rural communities, also surfaced. He said many police stations are without a fax machine, and ALGA resolved that within each Local Authority, a survey would be done to determine how many stations are without a fax machine, then donate machines to those stations.
He noted that the fax machines would not only help in terms of the alert for children, “but will aid the police in general crime-fighting, and their general communication skills.” He said the Local Authorities have responsibility for disaster preparedness, and as such, a huge network is available at every parish council.
“When you combine that network, the disaster zones, the Parish Development Committee (PDC) zones…with the political network that the Councillors take to the table – indoor agents, outdoor agents, runners – you can reach out and touch any Jamaican in any town in less than 12 hours,” he pointed out.
He said when a child is abducted, “it is a sick mind that does that, and therefore the whole community must have a means to be galvanised, to come together, to put aside political differences, to put aside religious differences, to put aside any difference, to put our energies, our focus on reuniting that child with his or her parents.”
The State Minister said that these incidents also point to the breakdown of family and home life in the society, which lead to many children being on the streets at various hours. “So, coupled with this programme, we are proposing a massive public education campaign that will entail parenting workshops, because many parents do not have the means or the skills of parenting. Nobody taught them, and therefore they can’t pass it on to their children. In other words, what we see in society is that children are not being brought up, children are being ‘dragged up’,” he argued.
Mr. Montague said that society tends to turn a ‘blind eye’ when children, especially students in uniform, are seen up to 11:00 p.m., “hanging around in the various communities,” because of fear. “We are afraid if we reprimand the child, the parents might come back at us,” he added.
He informed that a call desk would be established at each parish council office, as part of the strategies for the child-abduction alert system. The call desk would be activated as soon as the police receive an official report that a child is missing, as the report will be faxed or emailed to that desk. He said the information would be copied by the parish council and sent to the libraries, for distribution to their network. “Once that call, fax or email comes in to the Local Authority, there will be a network that will be activated. The Councillors, PDC Chairmen, the zonal committee persons, the post offices, (and) libraries will be called,” the State Minister explained.
He said the information would also be posted at supermarkets, bus terminals, and at other major points in communities.
“The councillors will be asked to activate their network, the service clubs, the Chambers of Commerce, the various Parent Teachers’ Associations (PTAs), and Consultative Committees. All of these groups will be contacted, because we are now in the process of building that data base,” Mr. Montague informed.
He suggested that the PTAs have parenting workshops, and that “simple” identification (ID), made of cloth, be sewn inside every student’s bag. “We are also suggesting a uniformed curfew, that there should be a cut-off point, where if a child is seen after a certain hour, in uniform, unaccompanied, an alert should be made. We are also proposing to engage our media houses, cable companies, telecommunication companies, to bring them into this network,” the State Minister said.
He said that the directional signs at major intersections, would be redesigned to allow space for the display of the abducted child’s picture. “We want to have that information out there constantly, in your face,” the State Minister emphasised.