The story appears on

Page B2

April 3, 2011

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature » People

Man who rescues children

THE horror of abducted and exploited children has attracted attention worldwide, including in China where authorities have stepped up efforts to find children using microblogs and technology that includes GPS.

Thousands of Chinese children go missing every year; the exact number is not known but the Beijing Red Cross has estimated the number at more than 200,000; some unofficial estimates are far higher. Since April 2009 Chinese authorities have rescued more than 9,300 trafficked children, according to the Public Security Bureau. Most are boys under five, since China has a strong male preference; some are sold to rural families, some are sold as slave labor and beggars.

The American National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is famous for raising awareness and aiding authorities in rescuing children. It has played a role in recovering 164,000 children, its recovery rate rising from 62 percent in 1990 to 97 percent today. Shanghai Daily contacted Ernie Allen, cofounder, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. A lawyer, he is also founder and CEO of the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which has a global network of 18 nations. His organization helps train law enforcement officers and develops age progressing and forensic imaging technology to assist in finding children who disappeared long ago.

Allen, based in Alexandria, Virginia, answered questions in an e-mail interview.

Q: How did you and John Walsh decide to found NCMEC in 1989?

A: The late 70s and early 80s were times of crisis in the United States regarding children. There were a series of tragedies, including the abduction and murder of John Walsh's six-year-old son, Adam. These cases demonstrated the US did not have a national system for responding effectively in missing child cases. This was a nation of 50 states acting like separate countries, and a nation of 18,000 separate police departments that often did not talk to each other. At that time most police departments had mandatory waiting periods of 24, 48 or 72 hours before they would even take a missing child report - in the most serious cases, abduction-murder, the child is usually dead within three hours. You have to move quickly. Thus, we changed US law.

Q: Is your legal background helpful?

A: My legal background is very helpful because we regularly work with legal issues. Our primary constituency is law enforcement. We are a resource for them. We generate leads from the public, analyze those leads, and attempt to locate the child and the perpetrator. Our goal is always to tell the responsible police department where they can go to find the child. And we are using technology as never before.

Q: How do you find the children?

A: We circulate their photos through a network of 400 private sector companies reaching millions of people. People with information call our 24-hour hotline. Our team of retired law enforcement experts goes directly to the scene of breaking cases to advise and assist police. Our analysts search donated public record databases to try to track down abductors. Our forensics unit "ages" the photos of long-term missing children and rebuilds the faces of deceased children from skeletal remains so we can identify them. We have a Cold Case Unit that works old and forgotten cases.

Q: What's your biggest challenge?

A: Our primary challenge is time. Time is the enemy. Ninety percent of abductions are resolved within the first 24 hours. After that, the likelihood of safe recovery declines on an almost daily basis. But we are having success in many long-term cases. In January we identified a young woman who had been abducted from a hospital in New York in 1987 when she was only three weeks old.

Q: How your recovery rate rise so dramatically?

A: Primarily through images and information. Technology has changed the way America searches for missing children. When a child disappeared 27 years ago when we were established, it took days or weeks to circulate that child's photo. Today we get the photo out in minutes. We use the national Amber Alert program notify the public of breaking child abduction cases. It's the same system that warns of weather or civil emergencies. We mobilize the eyes and ears of the public. A CyberTipline that allows the public and Internet companies to report suspected child exploitation to NCMEC online. We just handled our 1 millionth report. We have a Child Victim Identification Program that has reviewed 13 million child pornography images and videos last year.

Q: Tell us more about technology.

A: We have new tools like PhotoDNA, developed and given to us by Microsoft, which we use to match images and try to interdict the distribution of child pornography. We use forensic technology to "age" the faces of long-term missing children and do facial reconstructions of unidentified deceased children.

Q: How are you funded?

A: Our core budget comes both from the US Justice Department and private sources. Major corporations are key supporters.

Q: What about your global efforts?

A: Through the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children we have established centers like the US NCMEC in Belgium, Greece, Romania, and South Africa; set have a new regional center for the Balkans, and we are working with many other countries.

We have trained police in 119 countries. We have built a Global Missing Children's Network that includes 18 countries. We work with parliaments to create new laws on child pornography, and 43 countries have enacted new laws to date. This is a global issues that needs global solutions.

Q: Do you plan to work with Chinese officials?

A: We have a wonderful working relationship with Chinese law enforcement and other Chinese officials. We have trained some police in China. We conducted law enforcement training programs in computer-facilitated crimes against children in Dalian and Hong Kong. We are looking for more ways to work together in China and around the world.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend