The new alert system for missing children

Dr. Bernard Nottage, minister of national security, yesterday tabled legislation in the House of Assembly that would provide for the creation of a sexual offenders’ register and a MARCO alert system for missing children.

Marco Archer, 11, was found dead on September 28, 2011, several days after he was reported missing. On August 2, 2013, Kofhe Goodman was found guilty of Marco’s murder. Goodman was sentenced to death for the killing.

The superintendent of prisons would manage the sex offenders’ registry. The Mandatory Action Rescuing Children Operation (MARCO) alert system would be similar to the AMBER?alert system in the United States. 

The AMBER alert system is a voluntary partnership involving law enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation agencies and the wireless industry to activate urgent bulletins in the most serious child abduction cases.

“The amendment to the Child Protection Act seeks to ensure that never again would (loved ones) feel as though they would have to wait several days if a child or young person goes missing,” Nottage said.

“The guidelines to be enacted will cover all missing children and when a child is reported missing and the police are satisfied that the child is at risk of harm or death, the commissioner (of police) will now be required without delay to cause a MARCO alert to be issued.

“The alert would be disseminated to the public by every means available to the government, including commercial radio stations, television broadcasts, teletexts, electronic network systems, billboards and any necessary means that the minister deems appropriate.”

The alert system is a good idea. It brings the child’s status to the attention of the entire community. 

Someone who may have seen something suspicious, but did not think it significant enough to report it to authorities, would be altered and encouraged to bring that crucial information forward.

To make this law effective the government should sit with media companies – public and private – and detail just how this would work. Small details matter. 

Will the alerts be sent via e-mail to media companies to be put on television and radio? If the government sends out an e-mail alert to the media, who in these organizations will it send the alert to? 

Will there be follow-up telephone calls to the media companies to ensure they are aware that an alert has been sent via e-mail?

The government will find the media willing to assist in this effort. No healthy person wants another child to experience what Marco did. But for the new system to work there must be a logical plan and system to ensure the efficient dissemination of information.

“While there has been much outcry from many victims and their families, I believe the time has come that we must take action,” said Nottage.

We agree with the minister of national security. Let’s hope Marco’s legacy is an efficient alert system that helps to find missing children before people like Goodman do the worst harm to them.

Published Saturday, February 15, 2014

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