The government of Punjab has decided to introduce an alert system styled on the US’s Amber (America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) system for the safety and recovery of lost children.
After the vulnerability of children in Pakistan was exposed due to the Zainab Ansari murder case, Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif established a sub-committee chaired by the chairperson of the Child Protection Welfare and Bureau (CPWB).
He asked the CPWB, the Punjab Safe Cities Authority, the Punjab Information and Technology Board (PITB), the Punjab police, and other departments to formulate SOPs (standard operating procedures) and policies to address issues faced by children in Punjab.
In this regard, a meeting was held at Punjab Safe City Authority (PSCA) Office in Qurban Lines.
The meeting was chaired by Saba Sadiq and attended by Punjab University Vice-Chancellor Dr Zakriya Zakir, PITB assistant director Rana Muhammad Arif, police deputy inspector general Sohail Sukhera, Public Prosecutor joint director Hasnain Iqbal, Punjab Safe City Authority deputy director Umair Ayub, and others.
The committee debated a three-point agenda which looked into introducing the Amber alert system, formulation of SOPs for social behaviours and protection of children, and formulation of information technology protocols for the safety of schools, parks and public places.
During the meeting, a presentation of the proposed Amber alert system was given to the participants.
The focus of the alert system is building a mechanism for immediate response by the authorities, proactive collaboration between different stakeholders, and community engagement.
According to the proposed drafts, software will be developed by the PITB and provided to stakeholders.
Once a child goes missing, the police would be the first responders.
On receiving the information, they would create an alert complete with details of the child including age, physical features and area etc.
The alert would be sent to Punjab Safe Cities Authority, the local police, the patrolling police, the traffic police, the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau, and all broadcast mediums such as television and radio.
The alert would also be sent through e-mails and on mobile phone numbers of locals.
A single alert will disseminate information about the victim to not only the community, but PSCA could also spot the child through its surveillance system.
In addition, the information would be provided to police officers patrolling on the streets or roads or those personnel stationed at entry and exit points.
An officer of CPWB said that “ignoring and waiting for the return of the child” was a common response in Pakistani society and among first responder law enforcement agencies.
Whenever a child would go missing, parents tend to would first wait for him or her return, the officer said.
When the case is finally reported to police, the authorities would also ask parents to wait for some time before registering a complaint, the CPWB officer added.
“These initial minutes and hours are crucial for child’s recovery and safety,” he pointed out.
He said that the system would first be initiated as a pilot project in Lahore and Kasur.
It will later be replicated throughout Punjab, he added.
In this regard, a meeting to be chaired by the Punjab Chief Secretary will be held on January 22.
According to Amber’s official website, the alert programme is a voluntary co-operation between law-enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transport agencies and the wireless industry to activate an urgent bulletin in the most serious child abduction cases.
The goal of an Amber alert is to instantly galvanise the entire community to assist in the search for and the safe recovery of the child.
It was initiated in 1996 in the US in honour of Amber Hagerman, who was killed after abduction in Texas.
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