By Elton Gomes
As India continues to be plagued by the unceasing problem of missing children, a mobile application has now been launched in an attempt to track them. On Friday, Union Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu and Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi launched the app named “ReUnite.”
The app is a collaboration between the Bachpan Bachao Andolan, which is headed by Satyarthi, and information and technology firm Capgemini. Satyarthi said missing children should not be considered as mere statistics as their loss is real and inconceivable for the parents.
He added that ReUnite is a “union between compassion and technology. This app is a simple tool to reunite missing children with their families.” The Nobel laureate emphasized that technology should not be driven by profits.
Technology without morality & compassion, & driven only by profit and marketing will keep on destroying people and planet. Let’s work for compassionate technology. Today @BBAIndia and @CapgeminiIndia launched the app ReUnite which uses facial recognition to track missing children pic.twitter.com/kSYUBieNRI
— Kailash Satyarthi (@k_satyarthi) June 29, 2018
Prabhu praised Satyarthi’s Bachpan Bachao Andolan and hoped that ReUnite would help in bringing missing children back to their parents. Ashwin Yardi, the chief operating officer at Capgemini, said the idea for the app was conceived during an internal hackathon organised by the company. “After the tech challenge to create a pool of concept to address the problem of missing children in India was over, the winning team’s solution was taken forward to develop the app,” Yardi told PTI.
How the app works
ReUnite uses facial recognition to trace missing children. The app can be used by parents to report missing children and by vigilant citizens to report any vulnerable children on the street. By harnessing facial recognition, the app will connect to government databases of missing children in order to find a potential match. In case of a match, ReUnite will inform the user and allow him/her to see the whereabouts of the child.
The app hosts a multi-user platform that can be used to upload photos of missing children. However, uploading photos of missing children might raise privacy issues, and the app plans to combat such issues as well. Photos taken on the app will not be saved in the phone’s memory and will be deleted automatically once the user closes the app. Such photos will exist only as algorithmic equations.
The app’s database will be updated largely by end users who will have images of missing children and will upload the same onto the app.
The problem of missing children
India seems to have an insurmountable problem of missing children and primary reasons for this are related to poverty, cheap labour, and sex trade. Citing numbers from TrackChild, the government’s database, the New York Times reported that 2,37,040 children went missing between 2012 and 2014. The report also cited figures from the Ministry of Women and Child Development and stated that 2,42,938 children went missing between 2012 and 2017.
Furthermore, searching for children requires adequate manpower and resources – something that the Indian police seems to fall short on. In fact, many cases of missing children go unreported. The New York Times report claims that some parents deliberately sell their children or allow them to roam in busy marketplaces, thereby increasing their chances of getting abducted.
Despite being banned, child labour continues to exist in India. A Reuters report highlights the apathy among Indians and the authorities. The report claims that missing children are so common in India that their notices are often lost among a plethora of ads and job vacancies in newspaper classifieds.
Action taken by the authorities
In April 2018, Delhi Police used facial recognition to trace nearly 3,000 missing children within four days. The remarkable feat was achieved after the police began using facial recognition system software on a trial basis. The software was used on 45,000 children living in children’s homes. Of the 45,000, a total of 2,930 children were identified and efforts were made to reunite them with their families.
In June 2017, the Eastern Railway’s Railway Protection Force (RPF) managed to rescue 650 children from various stations and trains. The RPF also managed to unite 251 of them with their parents. Taking into consideration the increasing number of kids going missing from railway stations, the Railway Ministry decided to expand its campaign to find missing children to 47 additional stations. Additionally, the South Western Railway’s RPF has also been instrumental in locating missing children.
The government plans to strengthen TrackChild, India’s database to track missing children. The Ministry of Women and Child Development is also urging child care institutions to be more accountable. The institutions are being encouraged to increase accountability by registering their children for Aadhaar cards and opening bank accounts for them.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius.