Nothing can be more heartbreaking for a family than when their child goes missing. At first, they could be in denial assuming their loved one is temporarily lost and expect to find them soon. But as the minutes tick by and an hour or two later, the parents begin to panic.
They realize it's no longer a joke as they may have thought the child was just hiding to be naughty. And the longer it takes to recover the child, the more unlikely the kid can return safely home.
Here's where every moment counts, a time for action or risk losing the child, perhaps for the rest of their lives. They must alert the people nearby and issue out a public appeal; but if the child was abducted by a total stranger then more should be done than just to conduct a search.
'Amber Alert' for China
In the United States, law enforcement authorities cooperate with the public to issue announcements when a child goes missing, which are known as 'Amber Alerts.'
When local police determine a child has really gone missing, they alert other police officers and the local media by announcing the identity of the missing child and encourage people to be on the look-out, which in police terminology is called a BOLO (be on the lookout).
Accordingly, China’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) has launched similar alerts, but with a hi-tech upgrade. The ‘Emergency Response System,’ commonly called, "Reunion," that uses a mobile APP for messaging the public.
The 'Reunion' APP ensures more efficient sharing of public information and better collaboration between law enforcement officials. Citizens, who sign on to the APP, receive push notifications that provide the identification and description of a missing child.
China launched the 'Reunion' system in May, 2016 and it'd been successful in locating over 1,274 missing children, as of May 22, 2017, one year after its launch.
AI facial recognition
More than 20,000 children are reported abducted in China each year. Some experts claim the real figures could be even higher since some families are reluctant to reveal crimes committed against them.
But much-needed help is on the way. The Chinese hi-tech firm, Baidu, has introduced new Artificial Intelligence (AI) facial recognition technology that has played a pivotal role to help missing children reunite with their families.
Starting in March 2017, Baidu upgraded a Chinese Website, Baby Come Home, which aims to upload a nationwide database of photos of missing children.
The missing children submit their photos, which get scanned and analyzed to compare with photos sent by the parents of missing children. The facial recognition system can narrow down the search to about 30 families and then through further communications, families can be reunited if there is a proper match.
Fu Gu, 33, from Chongqing is one success story. He was abducted at 6-years-old and he uploaded his photo on the Website. On April 1, he met his biological parents after DNA testing confirmed the match.
Support system for families
The sad truth about China is that abductions have become a widespread social problem and many fear abductions could increase since a number of criminal gangs getting involved with kidnappings either force families to pay ransoms or sell children to other families.
Reportedly, motorcycle gangs are known to roll into public areas in cities where children are playing. They sweep in, grab them and roll out within minutes. They transport them into cars, where the children get delivered to a different Chinese city to be sold.
Some kidnapping gangs, who were arrested, have informed officials that the usual rate for selling a child to another family is valued at approximately $US50,000 (RMB300-350,000).
Child traffickers prefer to steal boys, since Chinese culture favors families raising males over females. Hence, Chinese cops need more help to assist families in the search of abducted children.
Fortunately, the Chinese Social Media companies, such as Tencent Holdings, and other hi-tech firms, including Alibaba, have joined in to offer new technologies and innovations that have upgraded the "Reunion" alert system.
Renewing hope with better tech
It's a nightmare for any parent to worry about a missing child. They wake up each morning wondering if their child is dead or alive. They feel no sense of finality until they get back their child, or unfortunately, recover the body.
Although China's 'Reunion' system has successfully identified 1,274 missing children in a period of 12 months, it was revealed that 75 of the children died by drowning and 29 were murdered.
The parents of 104 children had to bury them. The news was heartbreaking, but at least families know the truth and could stop searching in vain.
China's new technology upgrades are giving real answers to the families of missing children. And quite often, those answers are happy endings when missing children are found alive and return home where they can feel safe and loved wholeheartedly.