Can the USA’s “Amber Alert” be replicated in India?
The universal problem of missing children is worrying, and while ground level efforts in different parts of the world are in effect to combat the problem, statistics highlight gaping holes within the child protection system which are ill-equipped and show an unequal ratio between the number of missing children in need to the number of officers and volunteers who are trained to handle their cases. The Amber Alert is a US-initiated abduction alert system which was initiated in 1996 after the abduction and murder of a 9-year-old girl named Amber Hagerman, and is currently active in 9 countries. If implemented in India, the alert could serve to raise awareness about missing children, and could contribute towards reuniting many families. Here is a description of the components of the Amber Alert, and its potential to save missing and abducted children in India.
The Amber Alert uses multiple forms of media and public information generating systems in order to share information about missing children. It uses social networking sites, mobile text messaging, smart phone applications, digital advertisement billboards, radio, television and other available mediums to broadcast a general description of the missing child, along with information such as car registration numbers, where the child was last spotted etc. Once broadcast, call centers and police tip lines are available round the clock to register any leads shared by members of the public.
In order to maintain focus, some guidelines have been issued to ensure that the Amber Alert is not misused. As per rules issued by the US Department of Justice, the Alert can only be issued once the following pre-requisites are met –
1. Lawmaking authorities must confirm the incident or abduction. [This point was removed in 2013 via Skylar’s Law].
2. The child must be at risk of being injured or killed
3. There must be enough information pertaining to the physical description of the child, captors, vehicles etc.
4. The child must be a minor, i.e. below 18 years of age.
So far, the Amber Alert has served to raise the alarm in a number of child abduction cases. Upon issuing the alert, the case is automatically shared with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Border Control, thus alerting major agencies of the situation. The advancements in technology too, have ensured quicker information sharing and have facilitated a number of rescues as a result.
In India, as per the National Crime Records Bureau, a child goes missing every 8 minutes, of which 40% are never found. Exactly 10 years following the murder of young Amber, 17 children went missing in Noida, and are now said to be victims of the gruesome Nithari killings. The need for a system which will connect the public with lawmaking authorities, juxtaposed with the need for an effective and dedicated service which will help locate missing children, is needed in India. Perhaps this American information system can in fact, be modified to suit the Indian context and population, and can serve to locate at least a fraction of those hundreds of thousands of young children. The possibility exists owing to the fast-spreading technology in the country and it is hoped that a similar system will be developed soon.