‘Real reduction’ in missing children reports, says registry

FEWER children have been reported missing over the past two years, resulting in the lowest numbers since the launch of the Ananda Alert system in May 2009, The National Children’s Registry has said.

In fact, the registry’s Deputy Registrar Warren Thompson told a virtual Child Protection Forum put on by the Child Protection and Family Services Agency on Wednesday night that “since [the start of] 2020 the number is lower than customary, perhaps because of the COVID-19 pandemic”.

“We have seen, for the past two years, a real reduction in the number of reports for missing children. We are coming down from figures of around 2,000 per year and for 2018/19 we were in the 1,500 region — it’s the lowest it has ever been since the Ananda Alert programme started other than for the first year, of course,” Thompson said.

The Ananda Alert system for reporting missing children was named after Ananda Dean, an 11-year-old student of the Swallowfield All-Age School in St Andrew, who went missing on September 17, 2008. A two-week search for the student ended in horror, when her headless, decomposing body was found in bushes in the Red Hills area of St Andrew.

Thompson continued: “We saw almost a 50 per cent reduction in the number of reports received since March. For January to April 2019, we received 532 reports of missing children, and since January to April 2020, we have received 384 reports, so that’s like a 39 per cent reduction in the number of reports made.”

He said the recovery rate since January has been “about 71 per cent, but for the same period last year it was about 82 per cent”.

“So we had more children recovered last year in terms of being a proportion of the number of reports made, but still, we are glad that we have had a reduction. Maybe it’s because of the COVID-19 restrictions, more children stayed home. We are glad that they stayed home because, certainly, we don’t believe that children run away from good places; they run away from situations,” Thompson said further.

He, however, noted that the registry is still “concerned” as “although they did not run away, they are still home with their situations”.

“We are encouraging [you] to contact us once there is an issue at home, once you are being abused or harassed in any way, and we will do what we can on our part to assist,” he said.

As to why children are running away, the deputy registrar said “the main reason is family conflicts, violence; they can’t get along with someone or they have some disagreement, or they are being harassed or ‘violated’”.

“That’s the word they like to use. There are some cases where children run away because of peer pressure, but the main factor is conflict and violence within the home,” he added.

In the meantime, Thompson, in noting that “most times children run away from home they go to stay with friends”, said it is “important to encourage parents not to harbour children without having that kind of conversation with them and their parents to ensure that the parents know they are with you”.

“We have seen too many cases where parents have children staying in their homes and the parents of those children do not know where they are,” he added.

He also encouraged parents or guardians not to hesitate to report a child missing when they do not return home within the expected time frame.

“Many Jamaicans believe that if a child goes missing you have to wait 24 hours before you can report it, the guideline is that once you cannot account for the child’s location, report it.

“Report it by going to the nearest police station or contacting us and we will help you through the process, but report it so we can issue an Ananda Alert and help you have that child recovered.

“Even if you are going to wait to see if that child returns home, report it first. Report it so we can take action to have that child recovered,” Thompson urged.

He is also encouraging individuals to keep photographs of their children current.

“When you are reporting, you need to have a photograph of your child, hopefully one taken within the last six months. From time to time, parents [provide] photographs for children and the photograph was taken years ago. So take a recent photograph so we can issue a poster with the child’s picture so persons can look out,” Thompson said.

“I will tell you that we have had a number of cases where persons have called in tips to say they saw this child here or there, and we have contacted the police and they have [carried out] operations based on those tips,” he added.

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