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The disappearance of a child is the worst nightmare for a father. And in India it happens approximately every six minutes.
A large number of them are kidnapped. Many end up falling into networks of sex trafficking and prostitution. Others end up dying in the streets or sold as slaves.
According to the local NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA Save Childhood Movement), every year about 500,000 children disappear in the Asian nation, the second most populous in the world after China, with more than 1.300 million inhabitants.
Finding the missing requires time, resources and money , three things that are scarce in India, where many police stations do not even have a telephone.
But the country’s government has put in place a new strategy to deal with the problem.
First, the Ministry of Women and Child Development created TrackChild , a huge national database with photographs of missing children.
On this website you can see which children disappeared, which ones have been found, report new cases and make legal inquiries.
The second part of this program has to do with facial recognition technology (FRS, for its acronym in English).
Through software, the BBA organization is able to automatically compare the images of missing children with those of those who arrive at hospitals, orphanages and other institutions in the country.
The results are amazing: in just four days, the Delhi police department managed to locate 2,930 children and reunite them with their families during the month of April.
But how does this technology work?
According to the local newspaper The Times of India , the authorities used a database with photographs of more than 60,000 missing children and compared them with about 45,000 images of “unidentified” children.
And this technology was key to finding them. “It is almost impossible for someone, manually, to review the photographs to locate the missing children,” Bhuwan Ribhu, an activist with BBA, told local media.
The facial recognition systems first make a mapping of the faces, analyzing the characteristics and proportions of each of them. Afterwards, the algorithm elaborates in a model based on the available photographs.
BBA did not specify whether its system is geometric (based on features) or photometric (based on visual).
“If this type of software helps find the trace of lost children and reunite them with their families, nothing can do better, ” said Yashwant Jain, a member of the National Commission for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (NCPCR, by its acronym in English).
But not everything are advantages.
His critics assure that this type of technologies can be used by private institutions and governmental forces to spy on the citizens.
China recently implemented a similar system to identify and capture potential criminals, and also uses it to embarrass imprudent pedestrians and toilet paper thieves.
Others argue that the privacy of minors can be exposed by storing and displaying the photos publicly, which could put them in danger.
“The problem is that not everyone complies with the rules and it is very difficult to know if the images respect the right to privacy at all times,” said Matthew Wall, BBC’s technology correspondent.
“Digital surveillance is like a genie that got out of the bottle, and many privacy activists have little faith that regulators will control it.”