Wed, Sep 19, 2012 - Page 5 News List

Police use digital means to track missing children

SPLINTERED FAMILIES:Police say many children and teens who run away from home want to return, but their relationships with their parents are too distant

By Yang Chiu-ying and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Containers and other items bearing photographs and information on missing children are displayed on Sunday in Taipei.

Photo: Yang Chiu-ying, Taipei Times

With statistics showing a rise in the number of missing teens in recent years, the methods used to search for them have adapted with the times and increasingly rely on electronics and Internet resources, said Wang Min-nan (王閔南), a senior tracker at Banciao Police Precinct in New Taipei City (新北市).

According to the latest statistics provided by the Child Welfare League Foundation, over the past two decades 1,625 families asked for the group’s help in finding missing children.

The group said it has helped find 1,388, or more than 85 percent of them.

The foundation said its recent statistics showed that teens had a higher rate of disappearance than younger children, with nearly 7,000 teens under 18 reported missing in just the first half of the year.

The number of girls who went missing has also gone up over the past two decades, with three times more girls missing than boys last year, the group added.

Wang and Tsai Shu-nu (蔡淑女), another senior tracker, at New Taipei City’s Haishan Precinct, said that the Internet, Facebook, instant messaging and cellphone texts have all become useful tools for helping parents locate children who have run away from home.

However, they added that while tracking missing children and teens, they discovered that the parent-child relationship in modern families has become too distant.

Many parents do not know anything about their child’s interactions with other people or what they are doing online, and many do not even know how to communicate with their children, they said, adding that this meant many teens who had agreed to go back home would likely run away again.

“Don’t think that the teens who run away from home don’t want to go back; they do. In fact, their running away in the first place was very possibly just due to their anger at the moment,” Wang said, adding that if police could successfully play off the teen’s feelings of being afraid and missing their parents, it was very easy to get them to go home again through digital means.

“Parents should give their children some attention in everyday life and also know with whom they are friends and monitor their activities online,” Wang said, adding that being informed of these things would greatly increase the success rate of helping parents find their run-away children.

Wang said that there were times when, after successfully establishing contact with a run-away teen or child, they would either lock searchers out of their chat programs or refuse to return texts, forcing Wang to find alternative means of getting the message across to the run-away child that their parents would like to see them come home.

Persistence of family members and the aid of the media and the public in general are all key parts of a successful search, both Wang and Tsai said.

According to the Child Welfare League Foundation, many people and institutions help out in searching for missing or run-away children, such as a dumplings shop named Lee’s Xiaolungbao that uses food containers with information on missing children printed on them, or the Taichung-based Chun Hao Yun lottery store, which sells lottery tickets and gives out red envelopes with pictures and information on lost children.

Chun Hao Yun store owner Chang Chung-yun (張瓊雲) said that over the past seven years, she had given out tens of thousands of such red envelopes.

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