An innovative Anglo-Portuguese scheme to strengthen child safety and rapidly trace children who get lost or go missing has just been launched. Already it is has attracted considerable interest among parents, municipal authorities and large companies.
Based on Android smartphone and Apple iPhone technology, the scheme has been rolled out in Portugal with a view to expanding it throughout Europe and beyond.
The system is called KiSH – Kids in Safe Hands. It has been devised by an English computer expert, Steve Jones, in conjunction with the Portuguese association for missing children (APCD) and with the co-operation of the Portuguese judicial police.
Mr Jones believes the KiSH system is better than anything similar operating in the UK . He says he chose to launch in Portugal partly because of the legacy of the Madeleine McCann case, which has unfairly tainted the country’s child safety image and damaged tourism.
He is working in close association with Dr Patricia de Sousa Cipriano, a dynamic young Portuguese lawyer, mother of two and founder- president of the APCD. Margarida Durão Barroso, wife of the president of the European Commission, is vice president of the association.
KiSH works by parents downloading an ‘app’ that allows them to enter a photograph and a description of each of their children. This data is automatically coded and registered digitally at KiSH’s global control centre based in the UK.
If a child goes missing, in whatever circumstances – from simply getting lost in a crowd to running away from home or being abducted - a parent can alert the control centre with the press of a button.
Details of the child, including a photograph, are then immediately relayed from the database control centre to security staff at the appropriate location in Portugal.
In extreme cases, such as criminal abductions, the APCD and the judicial police may stop publication of photographs or information if displaying them publicly is deemed potentially dangerous.
Public and private venues, including shopping malls, sports stadiums and leisure facilities, are being invited to link into the system.
The Lisbon-based Benfica football club has been among the first to join. The international Auchan Group has agreed to bring the more than 40 hypermarket stores it owns in Portugal - the Jumbo and Pão de Açúcar chains - into the project. The system is expected to be introduced to lifeguards on many beaches in the Algarve and elsewhere in Portugal this summer.
Speed is of the essence in the system. If a missing child is not quickly found by parents or local security staff, the police in the area will be informed via the APCD.
Steve Jones emphasised that photographs of children would be held only in parents’ phones. Images would be stored in the database purely in code form and only dispensed to security agents if and when parents raise an alarm. Under no circumstances will images be issued to unauthorised personnel.
“Control will always remains in the parents’ hands,” said Mr Jones.
There are more than one and three-quarter million children aged 14 or under in Portugal. The number soars when visitors arrive on holiday.
Even though Portugal is generally a safe country for children, many go missing each year, as in most other countries.
In addition to reuniting missing children with their distraught parents, the KiSH system will help establish meaningful statistics. It will tabulate not only the numbers of children going missing and why, but also the most vulnerable times and places.
The public authorities thus will have better information on which to base policies for child safety in Portugal.
Parents can join the system by buying an iPhone app from the internet Apple store. The Android smartphone version will soon be available from the Google play website.
The annual fee for parents is €6.99, regardless of the number of children parents are registering.
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