Meta unveils alerts on platforms to help trace abducted children

Meta's Director of Trust and Safety  Emilly Vacher addresses a gathering during the launch of AMBER Alert in Kenya on March 18, 2024. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

The fight against child trafficking and abductions in Kenya has received a major boost after the government, in collaboration with Meta, launched AMBER alerts to help trace missing children.

The in-app AMBER Alert system, which was unveiled on Monday, will rapidly disseminate information about missing children through Facebook and Instagram.

According to Emily Vacher, Trust and Safety Manager at Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, users of the two social media platforms will receive alerts of missing children in their news feeds.

The alerts will contain crucial details that will aid the child’s return, including their clothing description, a licensed plate number and other vehicle details used by abductors, a photograph of the missing child, a description of the location of the abduction, and other details that will help the users recognise a missing child.

“These details will be shared with the public within minutes or hours after the child has been abducted,” said Vacher.

She added: “These alerts will occur very rarely but if you see one on Facebook or Instagram, it means that you may actually be in the search area for that missing child and you may have information that will help reunite that child with their family.”

The alerts will be geo-targeted such that when law enforcement activates an AMBER alert of a missing child in a particular designated search area, Facebook and Instagram users in that vicinity will receive alerts on their feeds.

People can also share the alert with friends in their network to amplify search efforts.

In order to know who to show these alerts to, Meta will use a variety of signals, including the city listed on the user’s profile, the IP address and location services.

According to Vacher, Kenya is the fourth country in Africa to launch the missing child alert programme after South Africa, Nigeria, and Morocco and the 34th country in the world to join the Mata child safety alert programme.

“While every single missing child case is uniquely important, this new tool will only be used in cases where the child has been abducted and there is reasonable belief that that child is at imminent harm or risk of death,” said Vacher.

The new missing child alert system, also known as Kenya Emergency Child Alert, was launched in partnership with the Directorate of Criminal Investigations’ Anti-Human Trafficking & Child Protection Unit and Missing Child Kenya.

Pivotal milestone

Interior PS Raymond Omollo emphasised the critical role of community engagement in tracing missing children, terming the initiative as groundbreaking in marking a pivotal milestone to protect children.

Omollo said the alertness of the people increases the chances of finding a missing child, especially in the critical first hours.

According to Maryana Munyendo, the founder and CEO of Missing Child Kenya, the new alert system will enhance the timely reporting of missing children in Kenya.

Director of Planning at DCI Benard Baraza, who represented the Director or of Criminal Investigations Mohamed Amin at the launch, said they have seconded four police officers who will be receiving and disseminating the cases of missing children reported under the alert system.

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