More than half of the 1,680 children who went missing during 2010 were found, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) in charge of the Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB), Ealan Powell, has disclosed.
Speaking at the opening ceremony for a week-long series of training workshops being hosted by the children’s advocacy group, Hear the Children Cry, at the Altamont Court Hotel, New Kingston, yesterday, ACP Powell said 1,248 or 74 per cent of the number who went missing last year, were found and re-united with their families or guardians.
The CIB Head informed that the 1,680 youngsters, which was 73 less than the previous year, accounted for the largest number of the 2,394 persons reported missing last year, representing 70 per cent of the figure.
Mr. Powell said the overall number of persons reported missing last year declined by 55 over the previous year, which recorded 2,449. He lamented, however, that of this figure, 424 are yet to be located, adding that 59 of the persons reported missing, inclusive of eight children, were found dead.
The senior officer pointed out that children also accounted for the largest number of the 2,449 persons reported missing in 2009, with 1,753 such cases.
“Although the numbers for 2010 showed a reduction over 2009, this is very cold comfort to parents and others whose loved ones went missing. Missing children and missing persons generally, result in tremendous trauma for family and friends. Our analysis of the missing person reports and information received from persons who return home, has indicated that children go missing for a number of reasons, including sex, peer pressure, after being reprimanded by their parents or guardians, or they have migrated. These reports also indicate that some of these missing persons were linked to human trafficking,” ACP Powell pointed out.
He said that over the years, the police have become “more sensitive” to missing person reports, and this has been demonstrated through the development and promulgation of a missing person policy. He added that a missing person desk has been set up and investigations are being done with “greater urgency.”
“No longer are the police waiting 24 hours to start investigations into missing person reports. High commanders give instructions that all reports must be investigated immediately the reports are made,” ACP Powell advised.
The five-day workshop series form part of a wider programme of activities, sponsored at a cost of £20,000 ($2.7 million) by the British High Commission, and being undertaken by Hear the Children Cry, to promote and support child safety islandwide. The workshops, which commenced on Tuesday, are also designed to improve Jamaica’s effectiveness in dealing with the crisis of missing children.
These workshops, which will run from February 22 to 25, and on February 28, will target some 180 professionals from 30 organisations. These include members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF); the staff of organisations serving children and other related stakeholders; and school guidance counsellors.
The main presenters are two specialists from the United Kingdom – National Co-ordinator of Child Rescue Alert at the UK Missing Persons Bureau, Charlie Hedges; and Training and Consultancy Manager with the Children’s Society, a leading UK charity which works to safeguard children through a variety of programmes, Claire Hubberstey.
Commenting on the project, the first to be held in Jamaica, ACP Powell said the JCF considered the initiative an important one, as demonstrated by the number of police officers who were in attendance.
“A missing person has been a problem for all of us. We see this training programme as very important, and we lend full support, and we are sure it will make us better for it,” ACP Powell said.
In his remarks, British High Commissioner to Jamaica, His Excellency Howard Drake, said the workshops would heighten public awareness on the issue of missing children.
Chairperson of Hear the Children Cry, Gillian Rowlands, said the organisation is “absolutely determined” that the issue of missing children should be resolved, contending that the society “must keep its children safe."
“We have to attack the problem from every angle. We must unite to determine causes, to rescue children in danger, to heal traumatised returnees, to support distressed families, and to really tackle the problem head on. We must punish perpetrators of evil, and most of all we must prevent recurrences,” she said.
CONTACT: DOUGLAS McINTOSH