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How facial recognition can help locate lost children

Almas Team
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Missing children include runaways, parental abductions, missing unaccompanied migrant children, criminal abductions and lost, injured or otherwise missing children. Missing children are at serious risk of some form of abuse; very likely to end up sleeping rough and 9 times more likely to attempt suicide. Every case of a missing child requires a specific approach, with governments, law enforcement agencies and NGO’s working closely together.

Being within the biometric industry we like to keep abreast of the news. This topic caught our eye and we were shocked to find out just how many children go missing each year across the world. One development is the use of facial recognition to locate missing children. According to the Indian news outlet NDTV, nearly 3,000 missing children have been located in New Delhi only four days after the city police department adopted an experimental facial recognition system (FRS) software program. This is a significant improvement to the milk carton approach.

So many missing children

Tracking the thousands of children who disappear each year in the 1.3 billion-person nation is an impossibly enormous undertaking. According to India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development, more than 240,000 children were reported missing between 2012 and 2017 alone, although the real number is probably higher. Some organisations estimate that the true number of missing children is close to 500,000 per year. To aid recovery efforts, the Ministry established a nationwide online database called TrackChild, where photographs of missing and found children can be posted and viewed, and police information can be shared between agencies and with citizens.

The statistics on the scope of the problem worldwide make for worrying reading:

  • In Australia, an estimated 20,000 children are reported missing every year
  • In Canada, an estimated 45,288 children are reported missing each year
  • In Germany, an estimated 100,000 children are reported missing each year
  • In India, an estimated 96,000 children go missing each year
  • In Jamaica, an estimated 1,984 children were reported missing in 2015
  • In Russia, an estimated 45,000 children were reported missing in 2015
  • In Spain, an estimated 20,000 children are reported missing every year
  • In the United Kingdom, an estimated 112,853 children are reported missing every year
  • In the United States, an estimated 460,000 children are reported missing every year

This, however, is only a snapshot of the problem. In many countries, statistics on missing children are not even available. Even available statistics may be inaccurate due to under-reporting/ under-recognition, inflation, incorrect database entry of case information and deletion of records once a case is closed.

Missing children include runaways, parental abductions, missing unaccompanied migrant children, criminal abductions and lost, injured or otherwise missing children. Missing children are at serious risk of some form of abuse; very likely to end up sleeping rough and 9 times more likely to attempt suicide. Every case of a missing child requires a specific approach, with governments, law enforcement agencies and NGO’s working closely together.

Biometrics are starting to change the game

India is not the only country to use biometrics to aid in locating lost children. Back in 2013, a new app was developed in China that used facial recognition technology to help identify missing children. Baobeihuiji (or Baby Back Home) is a non-governmental group dedicated to reconnecting lost children with their parents. Users of the app take a photo of a child they think is lost on their phone. The app then uses facial recognition technology to identify matches with a missing person’s database. If a match is found, the family is notified. As of May 2017, there were 64,000 cases on the Baobeihuiji website.

Some experts believe that as many as 70,000 Chinese children, mostly boys, are kidnapped every year. The Chinese government puts the estimate closer to 10,000 and the United States government estimates 20,000. These children are usually sold to foster parents or people who use them for slave labour or prostitution. When Fu Gui was six, he was abducted on his way home from school in Chongqing, China. He was then trafficked to Quznahou, about 1,000 miles away, where he was sold to foster parents. As a result of the Baobeihuiji app, he was reunited with his family after 27 years.

Key issues with biometrics

One of the key issues with facial recognition is that it often produces poor results when confronted with an image where the user may have aged or changed facial characteristics. In cases of missing children, this has meant that manual checks have been required so that matches can be made – a process which is overwhelming when you consider the numbers of children that go missing each year in India alone. Research into automatic facial age progression (AFAP), a system which uses predictive modelling and incorporates facial data to understand how humans age, is now starting to make the process much quicker. In India, this was done by a child welfare organization called Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) who developed an FRS software to automate TrackChild’s photo comparison process. It is not clear if the Indian software uses geometric (feature-based) algorithms or photometric algorithms.

It’s a fine balance between using biometrics for benefit and it becoming too invasive. Sometimes children go missing for good reasons, for example, because they are being abused and in fact, they run away from home and don’t want to return. When you read stories about children being reunited with their parents, it is wonderful, however there need to be strict regulations in place to prevent the misuse of biometric data, especially when it comes to missing children, with only authorities having access to the database and stringent verification and counselling processes before a child is returned back to an environment

As market leaders, innovators, manufacturers and installers of fingerprint and vein technology systems, Almas Industries are well placed to help businesses with all aspects of biometric control and security. Our systems are effective, highly secure and easy to operate. You can arrange your free, no obligation security survey by calling us on 0333 567 6677. If you prefer, you can always send a confidential email via [email protected]

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