Latin American security forces uses Amber Alerts to locate kidnapped children
By Dialogo January 31, 2014
The Amber Alert system has helped security forces rescue 779 children in El Salvador, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic between 2002 and 2013.
“As time goes by, clues, evidence, or any other circumstances that may allow us to locate the victims are lost. Therefore, the first few hours are critical for authorities,” said Mexico City deputy prosecutor Sulma Eunice Campos Mata.
Amber Alerts immediately notify the public that authorities are looking for a missing child, she said. Campos Mata, who is part of a unit which provides services to crime victims, said that locating missing children quickly is crucial to ensure their safety.
The Amber Alert system is a cooperative effort between law enforcement authorities and the press, including newspapers, TV news stations, radio news agencies, websites, and Twitter.
When an Amber Alert is activated, security officials ask the media to broadcast that a child is missing. The alert usually includes the name of the missing child, a detailed description, and a photograph of the boy or girl authorities are looking for.
Some of the rescued children were allegedly kidnapped by organized crime operatives who planned to use them for human trafficking. Some were abducted by sexual abusers. And some were taken by relative involved in custody disputes.
Amber alert rescues
Amber alerts have helped authorities rescue children throughout Latin America. Among the rescues:
• On Nov. 28, 2013, security forces in Mexico rescued Celeste Nohemí Pérez Méndez, a 13-year-old girl from Guatemala. Security forces found her in the town of Puerto Madero, Chaipas, six weeks after relatives reported her disappearance from Sector Méndez, a village in Guatemala.
• On April 15, 2013, Salvadoran security forces rescued Valeria Hernández de Jesús, 4. Security forces found her after Mexican authorities issued an international Amber Alert. Security forces found her more than 1,200 kilometers from her home.
How Amber Alert began
Amber Renee Hagerman, 9, disappeared while riding her bicycle near her grandparents’ house in Arlington, Texas on Jan. 13 1996. FBI agents and hundreds of volunteers from the community searched for the girl. Four days after Amber was last seen, authorities found her body in a drainage ditch near the home of her grandparents. She had been killed, officials said.
During the search, some neighbors called Texas radio stations and suggested that the media issue special alerts when a child is reported missing. Following Amber’s death, Texas and other states developed Amber Alert systems. Latin American countries adopted Amber Alerts as well.
The United States federal government invested $20 million into a national Amber Alert system in response to a law signed by then-President George W. Bush in April 2003. States used their funds to develop and enhance their local notification systems. Today, every state has an Amber Alert system.
he Amber Alert system shows results in Mexico
Mexico’s Amber Alert system has helped authorities rescue 105 children who were reported missing since its introduction in 2012, authorities said.
Brazil is moving towards adopting the system as well. The Brazilian Congress is considering an initiative which would introduce the Amber Alert system into the country. About 10,000 children a year disappear in Brazil, and about 15 percent are found, according to the Movement for Creating the Amber Alert in Brazil.
Amber Alert criteria
Not every case of missing child triggers an Amber Alert. Before law enforcement authorities issue one,
• A law enforcement agency must have confirmed that the child was abducted.
• The child must be at serious risk of death or injury.
• Authorities must have enough information to issue an alert. This would include the description of the child, including the child’s age. Alerts could also include the name and physical description of a suspected kidnapper, and, if available, the type of vehicle and license plate the suspect is believed to be using.
• The child must be below 18 years of age.
• The parents or legal guardians of the missing child must file a report with law enforcement authorities.
While Amber Alerts help authorities find missing juveniles, they do not apply to cases in which adults have been kidnapped. For example, in Mexico, Los Zetas, the Sinaloa Cartel, La Familia Michoacana (LFM) and other transnational criminal organizations have kidnapped tens of thousands of people since December 2006, when the federal government sent the military after the drug cartels.
From December 2006 to December 2012, during the administration of President Felipe Calderon, relatives of victims reported 26,121 kidnappings, according to the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH).
From January to June 2013, relatives of kidnapping victims reported 751 abductions, 122 more than were reported during the same period the previous year, according to the National Public Security System (SNSP).
The number of kidnappings has surged dramatically since 2007, when 438 abductions were reported in Mexico, according to Reforma. One of the more notorious kidnappings in recent years occurred in 2008, when LFM operatives kidnapped and killed Fernando Marti, the son of businessman Alejandro Marti. The kidnappers killed Fernando even though his father had paid a ransom of $2 million.