Each year, one million children go missing in Europe.
You may have had the “stranger danger” talk with your child already, but someone offering ice cream or a cute little puppy can be hard to resist when you’re too young to understand the danger.
The disappearance of a child is something that parents hope they will never have to face. During the first hours after a child goes missing, it is crucial that as many support systems as possible are made available, especially because the first three hours are critical when trying to locate a missing child.
One early warning system which has proved to be quite successful is the AMBER Alert. AMBER alerts are issued when a child goes missing and there is reason to believe that the child may have been abducted or that their life may be in danger.
AMBER alerts are broadcast via television, radio, road signs, mobile networks (apps and text messages), email notifications, RSS News Feeds and via Facebook and Twitter.
Within minutes, millions of people can be notified about the disappearance of a child, learn about the circumstances, the location of the disappearance, a vehicle description and can often also view a photo of the child.
For instance, in The Netherlands, 64% of children for which an AMBER alert is issued, are found safe and sound thanks to a tip from someone who read an AMBER alert. Plenty of success stories can also be found in the U.S., where watchful citizens have been able to find more than 750 missing children thanks to AMBER Alerts.
Despite the success, many improvements can still be made to create an even more effective system, such as a stronger and larger network (as there are still many countries without an alert network), better and faster cross-border cooperation and information sharing, as well as more flexibility in issuing alerts.
The decision to issue an alert lies with the police (although the criteria may vary slightly from country to country). Currently, the criteria for issuing alerts are quite strict, which means that there are many missing child cases that don’t quality for an AMBER Alert, even though an alert could help when time is of the essence.
You can sign up for free AMBER alerts for your geographical location, not only in Europe, but also in the U.S., Canada and many other countries worldwide. There are different ways to receive free alerts, and you can activate one or more alerts, depending on your preferences.
With the advance of wearable technology comes the option of monitoring your child’s whereabouts via wearable GPS tracking devices, giving worried parents some much needed peace of mind when their child walks to school alone for instance, or tends to wander off in busy public places.
For children, these devices are usually rubber wrist bands or ankle bracelets, without a touch screen but with a simple panic button or the option to call a parent via voice recognition. Most of these devices are connected to an app on the parent’s smartphone, allowing the parent to see the child’s location on a map and to be able to receive a call from the child.
There are also discreet panic buttons with a GPS tracking system on the market that are not specifically designed for kids but are so easy to use that you can teach even the youngest children how to press the button and call for help.
With new technologies also come new concerns. Not everyone favours the idea of placing tracking devices on children. Frequently heard concerns are that these devices are too intrusive or violate a child’s privacy.
Surely many will agree that this is not an issue with young children who may not even be aware that the cute pink bracelet they are wearing is actually much more than that.
For older children, who are already used to a certain amount of freedom and time spent away from their parent’s watchful eyes, it really could feel intrusive. However, as children get older and learn to distinguish safe from dangerous situations, it is probably not necessary anymore for the child to carry a tracking device.
We all want our child, or any child for that matter, to be safe. Knowing that modern technology can help keep children safe and provide an instant network of support in case of a missing child, could provide some welcome reassurance to any worried parent.
There is one ongoing question which we need to ask ourselves. With the rise of technology and measurement systems, are we poised to become more and more worried? Were people in the twentieth century worried because they didn’t know the location of their children?
What if biometric scanners will show us exactly what is wrong with our bodies… Will we panic because our sugar levels are 5% above the recommended amount? As technology increasingly impacts our lives, let’s hope we are wise enough to handle it.
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