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SAPS, Facebook partner to tackle child abductions

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The South African Police Service (SAPS) and Facebook have announced a new partnership to help find missing children – by sending Amber Alerts to the Facebook community in South Africa.

The first of its kind in Africa, the Amber Alert system will enable the police to seek assistance from the public when it is suspected that a child has been abducted and there is reason to believe there is an immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare of the child.

“Through Facebook’s Newsfeed, the Amber Alert enables people to instantly share important information about the missing child and suspected abductor, such as a photo, hair colour and clothing with their friends, family and Facebook groups,” said the police in a statement.

Emily Vacher, Facebook’s Director of Trust and Safety, said: “Already available across 23 countries globally, we are proud to partner with the South African Police Service to make Amber Alerts available in South Africa – the first African country to join this programme.

“When a child is missing, the most valuable thing one can do is share information as quickly as possible. By working with law enforcement in helping to share the right information with the right people, we hope that missing children will be safely reunited with their families faster.”

National Commissioner of the South African Police, General Khehla Sitole, said the partnership will assist in improving the police’s response time.

“[It will] enable us to find and safely recover vulnerable missing, abducted or kidnapped children through one of the world’s most popular social media platforms, Facebook,” he said.

How Amber Alerts work

The decision to declare an Amber Alert is made by the SAPS when investigating a suspected abduction case.

Once the South African Police Service has been notified about an abducted child, they must first determine if the case meets their Amber Alert criteria, which includes:

  • The abduction is of a child age 17 or younger;
  • There is a reasonable belief that the child has been abducted;
  • The police believe the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily harm;
  • There is enough descriptive information about the victim and suspected abduction for law enforcement to issue an Amber Alert to assist in recovering the child.

A senior member of the police will assess whether these criteria have been met before authorising the Amber Alert.

The police service will then notify Facebook’s Global Security Operations Centre, which operates 24/7, that a verified Amber Alert is active. Facebook will then quickly send the alert to the News Feeds of people located in targeted search areas in South Africa.

Emilar Gandhi, Facebook Head of Public Policy, SADC region added: “This is an important step forward in our continued investment and commitment not only to South Africa but across the African continent.

“The goal of Facebook’s Amber Alerts programme is to instantly galvanize the entire community in the search and recovery of a missing child. Using Facebook enhances the current distribution system by providing all of this information in one place and giving people the ability to share it, wherever they are.”

Amber Alerts are active as of 30 January 2020.

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