Brazilian police want to test new tactic in war against child trafficking

Thursday, 21 February 2019 23:34 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A student walks on the street next to a police armored car during an operation in Alemao slums complex in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil May 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

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New alert system will send messages to mobile phones whenever a child goes missing with the child's name, a physical description and where they were last seen

By Fabio Teixeira

RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 21 (Openly) - As part of an effort to fight human trafficking, the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro plans to create an alert system that can be activated whenever a child goes missing, a state secretary said on Thursday.

Mobile phones in the area surrounding where the child disappeared will receive messages with the child's name, a physical description and where they were last seen.

In cases of suspected human trafficking, the system will also allow for photos of suspects to be transmitted to mobiles.

"We want to present this project to (telephone) companies in the next six months," said Fabiana Bentes, Rio's state secretary for social development and human rights.

"We need their support. They need to understand this is a social service, that everyone needs," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Every year, more than 4,000 people are listed as missing in the state of Rio, according to government figures.

In Brazil, forced disappearance cases are almost never solved, said state Judge Adriana de Mello, at least in part due to authorities taking too long to begin searching for the children.

The project was inspired by the Amber Alert system in the United States, a program that has recovered more than 900 children since it was created in 1996, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The U.S system allows law enforcement to interrupt regular programming on TV and radio broadcasts, and send messages to wireless devices when a child is missing.

The state secretary introduced the plan at an event focused around a report on government failings in one prominent case of suspected trafficking.

In the case, Rio's authorities were found to have failed to properly investigate a man now charged with kidnapping three girls between the ages of 9 and 13 years old, the report said.

The man is suspected of trafficking the children, and they are still missing more than 15 years later.

Among the failings listed in the report was the fact that police took too long to start looking for the children.

In Brazil, the law states authorities are required to search for missing children immediately, but many police officers tell families to come back after the child has been missing for 24 hours, said de Mello, who authored the report.

At the event, the judge spoke directly to the mothers of the children.

"I apologize for how you were mistreated by the Brazilian justice system," de Mello said.

"You suffered all sorts of humiliation."

The chief suspect has yet to face prison time, though he has to present himself every month to law enforcement, to limit the risk that he may flee prosecution.

(Reporting by Fabio Teixeira; Editing by Jason Fields. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

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