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Abduction alert system is still a vision - 24Horas

The new mechanism is stuck in contacts between entities and the ministry

by: Duarte Baião

In November, the Justice minister, Alberto Costa, promised that the system would start to function. But until today, the mechanism remains stuck in negotiations that could have avoided the case of the girl in Ponte de Lima, for example

In June 2008, the Justice Ministry ordered the joint national director of the Polícia Judiciária, Pedro do Carmo, to present a project for a Child Abduction Alert System (SARM). In September, the project was delivered to minister Alberto Costa, who, two months later, declared that the SARM would be put into practise until the end of 2008. But the reality is different.

“The start of the system now depends on the negotiation and the conclusion of protocols with the public and private partners, who will make the means to broadcast the alert to the public available. The Justice Ministry is developing the contacts that are necessary for the celebration of a single protocol”, the ministry’s presss cabinet informed 24Horas, in a communiqué.

What is SARM

In brief, it is unknown when SARM will become operational because, as the same cabinet refers, “it depends upon the conclusion of the contacts”.

SARM implies the existence of a voluntary partnership between the judiciary and the police authorities, on one side, and the media, television operators, mobile phone operators, ATM networks, transportation networks, airports and shopping malls, on the other. A myriad of means that can rapidly reach millions of people.

That network will easily allow for exact information about the disappearance of the victim, both concerning personal data and the location where she was last seen, to be broadcast in the case of abduction. In that manner, the population can supply the authorities with information.

Careful with excess data

“The excess of data is bad. That’s where the PJ enters. This system is quick and the message must remain active over a short period of time. If someone sees the photograph of a missing child in an underground station, that cannot last for more than five or six days, in order for the alert’s impact to be maintained”, 24Horas was told by Paulo Pereira Cristóvão, head of the Portuguese Association for Missing Children.

The costs for the implementation of SARM are residual, but for Paulo Pereira Cristóvão, it’s not the money that is at stake. “We’re talking about sheer will, not a budget. The Portuguese children became important because an English child was missing. Now we’re back into the dark area and that’s why we had to create our association. The blame for this is transversal. If SARM had been operational, the girl from Ponte de Lima who has been missing for 20 days would have been found already. It’s a paradigm…”, he concluded.

The means exist already. “The Child Abduction Alert System is based on structures and means that exist already. No additional costs are foreseen”, the Press Cabiner of the Justice Ministry stressed in a communiqué to 24Horas.

September. In September, the European Parliament approved a statement that asked its member States to create a missing child alert system, in order to facilitate their location and recovery. At the time, the initiative was promoted by the parents of Maddie McCann.

The case of Andreia

Association supports family

The parents of young Andreia, aged 13, who has been missing for 24 days, are being supported in their time of despair by the Portuguese Association for Missing Children. Former PJ inspector Paulo Pereira Cristóvão, the president of the association, told 24Horas yesterday that he has been “in daily contact” with the parents of the girl that is suspected to have run away with a cousin, S., eight years her senior. “We’re following the case every step of the way, supporting the parents, who need so much in this time of anguish”, he said.

Simultaneously, the association is alert to the appearance of “swindlers who appear on such occasions”.

source: 24Horas, 09.01.2009

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