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The world’s largest social media company, Facebook, recently launched its popular Amber Alert program in South Africa, making it the first African nation to possess the feature. The launch follows a partnership between Facebook and the South African Police Service (SAPS) to use the former’s online community space in the search of missing children in the country.

The Amber Alert program will enable the SA police to seek assistance from the public when it suspects that a child has been abducted. Through Facebook’s newsfeed, the feature allows SAPS to instantly share important information about a missing child and suspected abductor, such as a photo, age, hair color and clothing with people within the designated search area. 

Commenting on the launch, Emily Vacher, Facebook’s security, trust, and safety manager stated that Africa is an important and growing market that is why the company is investing in communities across the continent. “We are excited to partner with the South African Police Service to make Amber Alerts available in an African country for the first time,” Vacher said. 

Calling it the world’s largest neighborhood watch, Vacher added that the partnership is “a signal of our commitment to bringing the latest Facebook features to Africa, building communities, and giving people access to digital tools that improve their lives.” The Amber Alerts is currently available in more than 20 countries worldwide.

In the United States, the federal bureau for investigation (FBI) recorded almost 467,000 missing children in 2014, which is close to one reported every minute. However, as of September 2019, about 967 children were rescued specially because of Amber Alerts. 

In an article by News24 released by Missing Children South Africa (MSCA), a child goes missing every five hours in the country, and 1.2 million children are trafficked every year. In partnership with law enforcement in SA, Facebook aims to help find and reunite missing children with their families as soon as possible.

However not all child missing cases will be registered on Amber Alerts. Once the law enforcement has been notified about an abducted child, they must first determine if the case meets their Amber Alert criteria. These include: the abduction is of a child age 18 or younger; a reasonable belief that the child has been abducted; the South African Police Service believes the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily harm; there is enough descriptive information about the victim and suspected abduction for law enforcement to issue an Amber Alert to assist in recovering the missing child. 

If properly organized and monitored, Facebook’s Amber Alert initiative to help find missing children will record significant success in South Africa based on the widespread usage of the social media site, ultimately leading to a rise in the recovery rate of missing children across the country.

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