Heartbroken parents hold up posters with their missing child's photos in an effort to draw public attention to organized human trafficking crimes in China. Photo: chineseportal.net
China’s public security bureaus are using a network platform designed by Alibaba to try to locate stolen children during the first hours following their abduction.
With the top e-commerce company providing technical support, the project named “Reunion” launched an official Weibo platform to publish instant information about missing child cases on May 15, the International Family Day. By June 15, 61 messages had been released, among which 46 missing kids were later found and reunited with their families thanks to the “Reunion” platform.
“If there was no Internet, we could miss the first most effective 72 hours to track down on criminals and bring back our kids,” said Wei Hong, the “Reunion” project manager of Alibaba, at the first Global XIN Public Welfare Congress, a charity event, last Saturday.
Chinese police departments decided to give out information themselves after finding that many social media posts that had gone viral were fake or publicity scams, according to Liu Zhenfei, Alibaba’s chief risk officer. “Last year, when we (Alibaba) heard they need an official platform to distribute missing child information, we decided to use our technical competence to help develop an easy-to-use system,” he said about the cooperation at the “Reunion” launch ceremony in mid-May.
GPS users alerted of missing child
The platform, officially known as the Public Security Ministry Platform for Emergency Release of Missing Child Information, would publish authoritative information through an official Weibo account while pushing relevant notifications automatically to people in the neighborhoods where children have gone missing.
According to Wei, over 5,000 police officers specializing in cracking down on human trafficking are authorized to make releases on the platform. As long as family disputes are excluded, release could be made immediately.
Once the message is out, police would use Amap, a popular GPS map, to push the notification to map users in the neighborhood to alert them about the missing child.
“The stolen kid could be transported out of the city or province in a few hours, so the scope of notification push would accordingly be expanded,” explained Wei. “Centered on the neighborhood where the child disappeared, in one hour, notifications would be pushed to map users within a radius of 100 km; in two hours, the range would be extended to 200 km, and in three hours, 300 km. When the child has gone missing for over three hours, notifications would cover 500 square kilometers.”
Amap official Weibo account confirmed that by January 2016, its users exceeded 0.5 billion, and “Reunion” Weibo account now has accumulated 290,000 followers. It is expected even if a map or Weibo user failed to spot the abducted child, he could help spread the message.
At 4pm on May 13, a two-year-old baby girl had gone missing near a train station in north China’s Hebei province. With the help of “Reunion” platform and message feedback from Weibo and Amap users, in the early hours of May 15th, the suspected trafficker was arrested by police in the suburbs of Zhengzhou, central China’s Henan province, and the baby girl was reunited with her family.
Urbanization drives abductions
In recent years, the number of missing children has been on the rise. It is reported by several Chinese media that around 70,000 children are being illegally adopted, forced to work and abducted for sale annually. In contrast, the figure of children abducted is around 100 in the United States.
China’s ongoing urbanization drive is believed to be the main culprit, according to an article in Financial Times. “Child abduction ties into more people leaving their hometowns for work,” says Pi Yijun, a criminologist at the China University of Political Science and Law. “When there are more migrant workers, there are more left-behind children.”
Based on a 2016 survey by the National Bureau of Statistics, there are now over 273,950,000 migrant workers in China, with annual increase of 1.9%. Over the past years, China’s rapid economic growth has diverted billions of farmers into big or small cities, creating opportunities for human traffickers to take away left-behind children in deserted villages or dilapidated villages inside busy cities.
Alibaba—0.3 percent revenue for public welfare
“It is not technology that has changed the world; it’s the dreams and responsibilities behind the birth of technology! Alibaba feels proud of the colleagues who have joined the initiative to crack down on human trafficking,” wrote Jack Ma on his Weibo on May 15 to celebrate the launch of “Reunion”.
According to Liu Zhenfei, nearly 20 engineers with Alibaba joined the project last November to devote their spare time to developing the system. Now, Alibaba has made “Reunion” one of their major public welfare projects to allocate money and resources for system upgrade. “More Alibaba operations and apps would be connected with the system, in order for more users and netizens to gain access to missing child information,” he said.
At a charity event last Saturday, Ma also promised to devote 0.3 percent of Alibaba revenue to public welfare projects.