Friday, May 25, 2012

Stores to shut doors when child missing

By Kim Rahn

When a child is reported missing at public facilities, an alarm will go off and all the entrances and exits will be closed for 10 minutes to locate the child.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare said Thursday that large-sized public facilities, such as theme parks and discount stores, will adopt the measure through a revision in related laws.

The measure was announced a day before Missing Children’s Day.

“When a child is lost, what happens in for the first 10 minutes determines whether the child really is missing or can be reunited with the family. But most public facilities in Korea don’t have such guidelines,” a ministry official said.

According to the current law, police help parents search for lost children when the incident is reported. But before reporting to police, there is no legal ground to force the facilities to close the exits.

The government selected E-Mart’s “Code Adam” system as a model program to react to children going missing. Under the system, when a customer reports a child missing to the store operator, the store issues the “Code Adam” alarm, closes all gates, and makes an announcement describing the child’s appearance. If the child is not found in 10 minutes, the case is reported to police.

The system was named after Adam Walsh, a six-year-old boy who was abducted from a Sears Department Store in Florida and later found murdered. After the incident Wal-Mart retail stores began the program in 1984, more than 550 companies and 52,000 discount stores have adopted it.

“We’ll form a taskforce team comprised of police officers and officials from related ministries as well as experts next month. We’ll finalize the program within the year and make theme parks, department stores, discount outlets and parks adopt it,” the official said.

In a related policy, the government will expand the personal information registration system for children aged 14 and under, the elderly with brain damage or mentally challenged people, according to the Ministry of Public Administration and Security.

Parents register children’s photos, fingerprints and other information to the authorities, so that they have a database in case a child goes missing. Several municipalities have launched pilot programs last year and the government will expand it to six metropolitan cities nationwide.

In 2011, there were 11,425 reports of missing children under 14 years old and 7,377 reports of disabled people going missing, according to the National Police Agency.

Of the children, 99.5 percent returned home, while 61 children are still missing. For the disabled, 98.8 percent were found, and 86 are still missing.

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