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The Ananda Alert System, Jamaica’s response to reports of missing children, was officially launched today (May 19), at a ceremony held at the Office of the Prime Minister in Kingston.
Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister, with responsibility for Local Government Hon. Robert Montague, explained that the Ananda Alert System is triggered when a child goes missing and a call is made to the police.
“The police immediately deal with that call, and then they alert the local authority, the mobile companies Digicel and LIME, and then they alert the media. The media have volunteered – the electronic media – to have a special sounding, especially during prime time and to put up a picture of the child and to put that information out into the public sphere,” Mr. Montague said.
He added that the mobile companies, with the permission of their subscribers, will send a text message to each subscriber describing the child, what the child was wearing when last seen, and where the child was when last seen.
The Local Authorities will also activate their parish disaster committees and they will also activate their own network, as the necessary information reaches right across the parishes.
“The Parish Development Committee, with its own network, will also be activated and community based organisations activate their own networks. The advertisement companies have agreed to utilise their electronic bill boards to put that message out into the public. The churches are mobilised and on the notice board in each marketplace, the information (of the missing child) will be posted,” Mr. Montague further explained.
Taxi companies and associations, which have signed up, have also agreed to pass on the missing child report to their drivers and to post a picture in their cabs. The Parish Councils will also post the pictures of missing children in prominent areas within their spheres.
“The key is to get the information to the public as quickly as possible, as the police will tell you it is better to get one million false phone calls than not to receive the one that is critical. Therefore, we invite everyone in the public to participate in this system. It is a home grown system, it has a complicated network, but what it has is the commitment of each person within that network to make it work,” the State Minister said.
He also informed that the Ministry of Education has agreed to modify its policy, so that every year parents will be required to give an updated picture of their children.
Meanwhile, Chief Executive Officer of the Child Development Agency (CDA), Allison Anderson, in her remarks, noted that the launch of the Ananda Alert System is an important milestone for Jamaica, which has ratified the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child.
“We at the CDA are not only very pleased to be a part of this network, but also part of an important movement in Jamaica, a movement which understands that each of us as individuals, as parents, has a very important role to play in terms of bearing our duties towards children,” Miss Anderson said.
President of the Association of Local Government Authorities (ALGA), Milton Brown, noted that all Local Government Authorities endorse the Ananda Alert System.
“Local Government Authorities are committed to this system and we think we have the reach to ensure that the system is effective,” Mr. Brown said.
Ananda Alert is a nationwide missing children emergency network, inspired by the death of 11 year-old Ananda Dean, who was killed after she disappeared on her way home from school last September.
In 2008, some 1,446 persons were reported missing, 1,059 returned, 55 are deceased and 332 remain missing.