Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Monday | September 28, 2009
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EDITORIAL - Energise Ananda Alert

In May of this year, Prime Minister Bruce Golding spoke movingly in remembrance of Ananda Dean. She was the 11-year-old girl, who lived in the Red Hills Road area of St Andrew who, last year, was abducted on her way from school, and was later found dead. She was murdered.

If something good could possibly have come from such a vile and painful episode, it did. The incident, with a fair bit of prodding from the children's rights campaigner, Betty Ann Blaine, galvanised Jamaicans, at least for a brief period, into an awareness of, and taking seriously, what seems to be a growing problem of child abduction and murder.

The mere statistics are bad. In 2008, 1,446 persons were reported missing, and 960, or two-thirds of them were children. Seven of the children were found dead and at year's end, 19 per cent of the children were still missing. The emotional toll on the families of these children must be horrendous.

Aggressive search

It was against this backdrop that Jamaica sought to adopt a system in use in the United States to bring attention aggressively to and search for missing children, preferably in the immediate aftermath of their disappearance. In this scenario, a raft of agencies, including those engaged in children's welfare and law enforcement would be mobilised and national alerts would be triggered to elicit citizens' help in the search.

It was at the formal launch of this system, called the Ananda Alert, that the prime minister, with sad eloquence, ignited such hope, bequeathed in the name of Ananda Dean.

"We are not laying flowers at her grave," Mr Golding said. "What we are seeking to do is something that we hope is much more lasting and more valuable - and that is to ensure that what happened to Ananda does not happen in the future."

We are reminded of Ananda Dean, and the missing children's alert system that bears her name because of several recently reported attempts at abductions and at least two kidnappings for which parents apparently paid substantial sums to recover their children. But these parents could find the money. Most of us can't.

That is part of the reason why a system like the Ananda Alert is relevant and useful, and must be exploited to the fullest. Unfortunately, we cannot claim that we have a sense that this is the case.

Efficient, energetic coordination

Perhaps it is that there is the presumed efficient and energetic coordination between the children protection and law-enforcement agencies when a child goes missing and/or is abducted or kidnapped. If that is the case, we are happy. It must continue and be deepened.

We, however, do not see or feel the community component of the Ananda Alert, at least not how we expected it to operate. There is not the expected rise in the public decibel - flyers, posters, video boards of the missing, etc. It might be that our conception of how things ought to work is wrong, in which case, we would welcome, from those who manage the process, the filling of this gap in our education.

On a related, but separate point, we urge the Jamaica Constabulary Force to develop - and if one exists, strengthen - an anti-kidnapping unit. This is a worsening problem, which we can, hopefully, prevent reaching the proportions of Trinidad and Tobago's.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.

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